00:00:00STURCHIO: Dr. Baker, we know you were born in Chestertown, Maryland, in 1915,
but we don't know much else about your family background. Could you start by
telling us about your parents, and what kind of background they had?
BAKER: Well, they were from New York City, where their folks had lived for a
century and a half or so. They therefore found an expedition to an old
00:01:00plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland rather startling, and they took
great pleasure in learning how to grow the things that one did in plantations
there in those days. They eventually got more practical or perhaps more
inventive about what they wanted to do and then really concentrated on the
technology of fowl production. My mother in particular laid the basis for the
broiler industry, which is now, through Mr. Perdue and others, a very
fashionable element of the Eastern Shore. They created the first wire platforms
on which these birds were matured very quickly. Of course, they didn't have the
00:02:00chemistry and biotechnology which presently causes this very rapid maturing and
very efficient production of chickens and turkeys. Then they, and my mother in
particular, got very interested in turkeys and raised the first flock of a
thousand that anybody had cultivated in this country. A thousand domestic
turkeys in one large lot--since then that's been multiplied many times. She
found that there were interesting developments that could be undertaken to
improve the culture of turkey raising and has written a couple of books about
She also collaborated with Professor Ernest
00:03:00Edward Tyzzer at Harvard, who was a leading pathologist of his time, and with
the Merck Laboratories here in New Jersey, to apply therapy to some of the worst
diseases which had kept turkey production very low and very inefficient for
years. One of these was called coccidiosis; another one was called backhead.
This therapy involved the administration of colloidal iodine through a catheter
about a meter long. Tyzzer had found that colloidal iodine had to be used, and
the Merck people produced this powerful substance.
report all of this because it was my earliest exposure, I think, to any
systematic chemistry. I helped them administer it. It had to be done bird by
bird for thousands of them, and we did it. This was really quite a remarkable
00:04:00phenomenon. It is not what you would select as the most elegant or most easy or
efficient kind of therapy, but that was how it was done.
STURCHIO: When was this?
BAKER: This was in the period 1926 to 1933. There have been movies made of this.
The Pathe newsreel has shown the administration of these catheters, and flocks
that were stabilized by colloidal iodine. It's been reported in the National
Geographic and other journals.
But it was pertinent to
your kind of question because it indicated a certain exposure to the more
biologically-oriented aspects of chemistry. My father was also very interested
in minerals and had a small mining operation in North Carolina for a while. So I
got pushed--or at least attracted a little bit--toward the inorganic side as well.
00:05:00STURCHIO: Was that around the same time that you were an adolescent?
BAKER: Yes, it was around the same time, perhaps a bit earlier. I was fifteen in
1930. I was pretty well involved in this fowl culture by then, and my father had
gotten fairly well past the mining and minerals effort at that point.
STURCHIO: For the record, what were your parents' names?
BAKER: Harold and Helen.
STURCHIO: It's interesting to learn the kinds of influences that may have
steered you either consciously or subconsciously towards a career in science.
Did any secondary school teachers have an influence on you in that regard?
BAKER: Some of this has been recorded in one of those issues of Chemical &
Engineering News that discusses career developments, and somebody also wrote up
00:06:00some of this.
But in secondary school there was a
modest influence, a man named [Mark] Creasy who was the principal of the school
and taught chemistry. He was a good old Pennsylvanian who had firm convictions
that you ought to learn something about the periodic table and do the formal
aspects of the chemistry of those times. It wasn't discouraging, it wasn't
exhilarating, but it was adequate, I would say. There was a mathematics teacher,
Miss Mamie Carroll, who was perhaps more compelling, really very diligent
00:07:00indeed. I developed a considerable interest in mathematics at that stage.
STURCHIO: The time you were leaving high school, 1931-1932, was at the depth of
BAKER: It was pretty deep, all right.
STURCHIO: Did you always plan to go on to college? How did things look at that time?
BAKER: Yes, in a general sort of way. It always seemed like there was a lot more
to be learned than I had learned, so I thought one can keep running after it. My
parents felt that way, too.
STURCHIO: Did they both have college education?
BAKER: No. They were fairly well informed, and very wide readers. As I said, my
mother had written two books on her subject, but they didn't go through the
formalities. Of course, the New York public education system at that stage was
fairly constructive and fairly dependable.
STURCHIO: You went to Washington College, which was nearby. Could you tell us
00:08:00about your college years?
BAKER: Washington College performed a very interesting role, and we looked at it
in a rather practical way. It was a transition between the secondary school and
college in the broader sense. It was somewhere between a preparatory school and
a university. So we looked at it as an opportunity to have a broad exposure to
learning, and I've always been extremely grateful for that. This is another way
of saying that science in the college was not extensive enough to displace a lot
of liberal arts. We had a very distinguished woman in English literature, Dr.
Gertrude Ingalls, Drs. Fowler and Arthur Davis in German literature, and some
00:09:00excellent people in math. Thus there were very good opportunities to postpone
the demanding dimensions of science and chemistry as it was coming on, and
acquire some liberal arts, which as I say I've been enointously grateful for.
STURCHIO: When did you decide to major in chemistry?
BAKER: Oh, I think the first day I went to college. There was an excellent
professor there, [Kenneth S.] Buxton, who had been a student of [Otto] Maass at
McGill. Maass, you probably remember, was a disciple of [Ernest] Rutherford, who
discovered the structure of the atom. McGill was then a great center. Rutherford
had been there for some years, and Maass was a pioneer in physical chemistry.
00:10:00Buxton was one of his very good students. So I got into that right away.
STURCHIO: What laboratory facilities were there at Washington College? What kind
of introduction to research did you get in those years?
BAKER: Research was vanishingly small. The laboratories were entirely adequate.
They were small but there was a very small group of us. There was lots of room
and we had plenty of time. We did all the conventional hands-on experiments, and
Buxton was just very good. He had assistants. Miss Harley was a very diligent
person and very good at analytical chemistry, which of course was basic in those
times. There was a pretty good physicist who wasn't much interested in chemistry
but was complementary to it. That was [Jesse J.] Coop, who I think is still
00:11:00alive and headed research work at the Johnsville [Pennsylvania] Naval Air
Development Laboratory for a number of years after he left Washington College.
GOLDSTEIN: At this time were you or your colleagues aware of the formation of
Bell Labs? It was getting under way. Was this something people talked about?
BAKER: That's a very good point, Marcy. The Laboratories were known to us
through their rather extensive educational and public affairs programs. This
00:12:00became more clear through the neighbor who came along when I was perhaps halfway
through Washington College. He had formed and owned an independent telephone
company up near Erie, Pennsylvania, and had just retired from it. This fellow,
like so many of the independents, was absolutely lyrical about the Bell System
and about the Bell Laboratories. Of course, their whole structure--at a stage
when these independent companies were proliferating all over the country--was
entirely dependent on Bell Laboratories technology. This fellow, a very
intelligent chap, was utterly committed to the idea that the Bell Laboratories
was a great source of progress in the world, and so he convinced us that this
was something worth listening to. By the time I was perhaps a junior in college,
00:13:00I was really very much oriented toward the Bell System and Bell Laboratories.
Our first telephones in this plantation area were independents. They were
operated by a fellow named Scoon who came around with a screwdriver and put the
thing together. It worked extraordinarily well considering that some of the
transmission line was on wire fences. [laughter] You could do that on the ground
element of it if you had a pole that has one major line. But the C&P company
moved in and acquired that company, as it did many others, about the time of my
junior year at college. So we began to see the field operations of part of the
Bell System quite early. They began to have talks in the areas too, as they
00:14:00STURCHIO: What were your career plans when you graduated from Washington
College? What job prospects were there?
BAKER: There weren't many jobs. They had vanished. But we were very much
committed to graduate study and to further study, realizing that, as I say, the
college had a kind of intermediate position. Although Buxton was absolutely
first rate, there just wasn't an opportunity for the depth of study that you
would have at a Berkeley or other places that were pursuing chemistry vigorously
in those days.
STURCHIO: While you were in college you had always planned to go on to graduate work?
STURCHIO: What was it that attracted you to Princeton?
BAKER: We gave this a great deal of thought. Buxton, of course, was a primary
00:15:00factor, but we had discussions with other people. It seemed to represent an
extraordinary opportunity for frontiers of what you would call the new chemistry
at that point, which was physical chemistry, without being lost in a very large
operation. Now, as you brought out so nicely in the Beckman biography at the
Rockefeller Symposium a month or so ago, Illinois, Berkeley, Harvard in its
particular way, and a few other places were growing very
Johns Hopkins of course had graduate work with
[E. Emmet] Reid. By the way, before Buxton went to McGill, he had graduated from
00:16:00Clark, which was a graduate university at that stage. All these places led us to
think it would be very good to have the advantage of the new American wave in
chemical research and teaching, but that it would also be very good to maintain
some individuality and personal identity. Princeton seemed to be a combination
of those elements. Now, on the physical chemistry side, it was also very
attractive because of the physics in which they had been preeminent for many
years. [Karl T.] Compton in his time--by the time I got there he had gone to MIT
as President--had done very distinguished work there. [Owen W.] Richardson's
work on electronic emission won him the Nobel Prize and he had a brilliant
00:17:00student named [Clinton J.] Davisson who was not unknown to us. You see, the
discovery that electrons are waves had been done by Davisson and [Lester H.]
Germer here at Bell Labs before I actually had to choose a place. The general
interest in advanced chemistry as a derivative of physics and of the older
organic discoveries in Germany--which, as I say, were being pursued largely at
Hopkins--that convergence came along. Lauder Jones had gone to Princeton from
Chicago and brought some of the organic work. At that point, I had no great
inclination towards organic chemistry, but I was interested in it. Hugh Taylor
00:18:00had attracted a lot of Buxton's and other modern chemists' attention by his
treatise on physical chemistry.
It wasn't all written
by him, but he had pulled a lot of other distinguished people together. Taylor,
you see, was an Englishman who had a very cosmopolitan view of science, which
was not so prevalent at Illinois, California and even Caltech. This was another
attractive feature of Princeton. I had given serious thought to going to
Germany. I had won a modest scholarship given by the German ambassador,
[Friedrich Wilhelm] von Prittwitz and Gaffron. This was presented before I
graduated from Washington. I was very interested in German, so I was quite
prepared to go and study there, but the fact that Nazism was beginning to stir
00:19:00was very disturbing. Taylor seemed to have a great feeling of linkage with the
European chemists, which resulted in my going to Princeton.
STURCHIO: Indeed, a number of people came over as postdocs in the mid-1930s, so
there was a lot of interchange on that level at Princeton. I was going to ask
you some specific questions that you've already answered about the character of
the Princeton department. As I recall, the entire graduate school was only about
two hundred students at that time, so it really was a very small school.
BAKER: It might have been three hundred, but it wasn't more than that. That's right.
STURCHIO: And although chemistry was the largest graduate department in student
body, there were only about two dozen graduate students.
BAKER: You're absolutely right. You see, that was another very attractive thing.
Coming back to this point about individuality, Princeton had this unique
residential graduate college. It's one of the great Gothic structures in this
00:20:00country. It permitted a lot of interchange with other sciences, which interested
me a lot. So I liked it for that reason, too.
STURCHIO: When you started at Princeton in the fall of 1935, it was a very
lively time in the intellectual life of the Princeton chemistry department.
[Henry] Eyring's paper on the activated complex in chemical reactions had just
been published a few months
There was Taylor's
research on catalysis and other research in kinetics, [Charles P.] Smyth's work
on dielectrics. How did all of this impress you when you started in the fall of 1935?
BAKER: With awe, for one thing. I was approaching this, you see, from a
semifinished view. I recognized that Washington College was a preparatory
00:21:00venture and therefore I was determined to get through undergraduate courses as
well as graduate work at Princeton--which I did. The levels of sophistication
with which one was surrounded there were really quite compelling. You're
absolutely right in your assessment of the environs. Plus the fact that my
colleagues who were entering were such people as [David P.] Stevenson from
Berkeley who had stood at the top of their College of Chemistry. G. N. Lewis had
set up this college. He wasn't satisfied with a department and it is a college
of chemistry which still exists. Stevenson was his top student. So here I was
thrown up against these fellows who had had years of intense chemistry, whereas
I'd had years of German, mathematics, and other things along with a reasonable
amount of chemistry. So I would say that awe was probably the appropriate term.
STURCHIO: What about your interactions at that point with Hugh Taylor and Henry
Eyring? What were Taylor and Eyring like to an entering graduate student?
00:22:00BAKER: Well, they were demigods, but Taylor enjoyed that role. [laughter] Eyring
exercised that role in a rather amusing form. I used the right word, demigod,
because Eyring thought that one thing he could do was to save the souls of
chemists as well as illuminating them. He was a Mormon of very great conviction,
as of course was [Harvey] Fletcher here [at Bell Labs]. He and Fletcher were
close colleagues. Taylor was a classic English university person who was quite
remote and dignified and at the same time very demanding of his students. Eyring
was an evangelist who felt that he had, as indeed he had, a finger on the future
00:23:00of chemistry and of science. Not only with the activated complex, but also the
whole introduction of quantum. mechanics and quantum statistics, both of which
were being approached very tentatively. [Linus] Pauling, of course, had done his
elegant work with [E. Bright] Wilson, an earlier graduate of Princeton, who had
worked a little with Smyth. This influence was there, you see, but somebody
needed to bring it forward, and Eyring brought it forward. These people were
clearly creating a frontier, which was of course what we had dreamed of and
hoped would be found. There was so much stir, so much excitement, that we had to
run very hard to keep up with it.
STURCHIO: One has the impression in reading Taylor's account of chemistry at
00:24:00Princeton at the time, or material on Eyring, that the physical chemists were
really in control of the department.
Is that an
BAKER: Absolutely. The days of Lauder Jones had long since passed. Now, another
compelling feature that you very thoughtfully brought out a bit ago is that
Princeton was a ferment of scientific activity then. Residence at the graduate
college really made this hit a neophyte like myself right in the head. R. H.
[Ralph Howard] Fowler was there. This was all when I was just starting, you see,
and I was really getting along on these things. Fowler is the creator of modern
statistical mechanics. His book, which is about that thick, was revolutionizing
chemistry, metallurgy, and physics, explaining how to use quantum statistics for
describing great assemblies of things.
thought if you had two atoms, you had too many. [Max] von Laue was there, for a
couple of years, partly at the Institute [for Advanced Study] and partly at the
00:25:00university, the father of structure analysis and of x-ray scattering. The
[Niels] Bohr group from Copenhagen was richly represented. As I'll mention to
you later, we were there when fission was discovered and Bohr called a seminar
to look into it right away that evening, which I'll never forget. These are
simply examples of how these things were interacting. I could bore you with a
great many more. They led to great expectations from chemistry. I took
electromagnetics from [John H.] Van Vleck, who was visiting from Harvard. I took
spectroscopy from [Louis A.] Turner in the physics department, who was one of
the leading spectroscopists. I sat in on the seminars of Henry Norris Russell,
who was the pioneer in astrophysics and determined the spectral transitions, the
chemical transitions, in the stars. Everybody expected chemistry to live up to
00:26:00this, to become another great frontier in learning. [Thomas J.] Webb was a
fascinating case. His research was trivial, but his pedagogy was superb. He
wrote a book on physical chemistry the first year I was there which was the most
elegant junction of classical physical chemistry--the Lewis and [Walther] Nernst
era of thermodynamics and kinetics--with the new quantum statistics and quantum
mechanics of Eyring and Pauling and the rest.
right in the midst of that. Webb was a very incisive character whose ability to
create examinations and evaluate them was unsurpassed. Thomas Jefferson Webb.
This was a very interesting sociology. You had people like him who were
extremely demanding of tests and concepts and pedagogy, and then you had Eyring
and [Robert N.] Pease and others who were pushing forward the understanding, the
00:27:00frontiers. They didn't pay so much attention to these pedagogic formalities
because they were making the theory obsolete by tomorrow! Of course, this is
exactly what Eyring was doing.
STURCHIO: As long as we are on it, you mentioned a couple of the courses that
you took. Here's a description in the catalog of the graduate courses in the
department of chemistry for 1936-1937. What sort of things were you doing within
the chemistry department?
BAKER: Oh yes, and blessings on you for digging this out. We took all these.
Now, if we just run down the list. [see next page] Taylor's physical chemistry
was based on his treatise. It was the view of the frontier. Pease, on the other
hand, was a plodding but extremely effective chemist extremely competent
measurements, experimental work on gas kinetics, the fundamentals of hydrocarbon
00:28:00reactions. His son [Roger F. W.] worked for us for a number of years and lived
down the road here; I don't think he does anymore. Webb is this fellow I have
just been talking about. He is the thermodynamics and chemical reactions man
here, and the whole emphasis was on pedagogy. This says twelve problem sets
required. Well, it only took a couple of days to do one problem, so there were
twelve problem sets. He also taught statistical mechanics. He was a good
interpreter for Eyring because he was very rigorous. What he said here about
Fowler and [Sir Charles Galton] Darwin was well applied. Darwin was the grandson
of the evolutionist. The son of this Darwin [Charles] worked with us here for a
few years in switching research with Deming Lewis. His father was director of
the National Physical Laboratory [1938-1949] and is the Darwin who created some
of these techniques for statistical mechanics. This Fowler is R. H. Fowler. When
you look at the physical chemistry of today and the routine statistical
mechanics we apply there, you find the roots of it back in this fellow's
So Webb was an interpreter. Eyring was the
00:29:00evangelist indeed and his quantum mechanics in chemistry just roared along with
absolutely minimal pedagogy. You had to keep lurching ahead to even keep up with
him. He'd have a new theorem or new finding or explanation of the reaction of
hydrogen with iodine, say, and they were very exciting. A fellow named [John O.]
Smith [Jr.] and I did a fundamental, that is a first principles, calculation of
the dipole of HC1 on the basis of Eyring's charge distribution analysis of the
very simple chemical bonding there. This was the sort of thing that went on.
STURCHIO: I'm particularly interested in Eyring's work on quantum mechanics at
that time. For readings for that course was there a text that you were using, or
were you going straight from the original papers?
00:30:00BAKER: We had to go from the papers. Eyring just couldn't be bothered with a
text. [laughter] Now, Eyring did have a text with Kimball on quantum
George Kimball became a professor at
Columbia and was there for a great many years. At this point Eyring was maybe
thirty-eight or something like that, and George Kimball was maybe twenty-eight.
He was a decade or less younger than Henry.
[END OF AUDIO FILE 1.1]
BAKER: Henry always referred to him as "old" George Kimball because old George
00:31:00Kimball insisted on trying to write things down and get them straight, whereas
Henry was tearing off far beyond this. So that's what happened with the
books--they didn't pay much attention to them.
STURCHIO: Pauling and Wilson's book had come out, though?
BAKER: Oh, yes. Pauling and Wilson was out, and of course you had to read that
the first two weeks and then go ahead. [laughter]
STURCHIO: If you'd ever seen that book, Marcy, you would know why I'm laughing!
BAKER: This Wilson was the Smyth student who then went on to Harvard and has won
all of these awards. To give you a feeling of what the genealogy of this is, his
son [Kenneth] is the Nobel Prize winner at Cornell who was here not too long
ago. He's working on supercomputers.
STURCHIO: You mentioned Smith was one of your fellow students in that seminar.
Do you recall who else was there?
BAKER: Oh yes, the whole gang was there. Stevenson from Berkeley was
00:32:00particularly effective. [Walter] Kauzmann didn't come in until a year or two
later. [John Y.] Beach was a postdoc from Berkeley. [Leonard S.] Echols was from
Carnegie Institute. He wasn't one of the primary luminaries, but he was a good
fellow. [Robert D.] Eddy became professor at Tufts and died only just a year or
so ago. We'll get to Eddy in a moment, because he was one of the few in our
group who went into inorganic chemistry. I'll follow this down a little further.
Do you want more?
STURCHIO: We might as well go on. But I do want to come back to the departmental seminars.
BAKER: Yes, you bet. The inorganic thing is worth pointing out, because this was
a transition period. Of course, before the time we're talking about inorganic
00:33:00chemistry was the delight of the age. There was a man named [Alexander] Smith at
the University of Edinburgh, and there were a couple at Oxford and Cambridge who
pursued it pretty much on the German pattern. They brought it along from the
century before. Now, [Alan W. C.] Menzies, who was a Scotsman, was a strong
disciple of the British school. He had taught at Chicago for a while, and he was
most intriguing. His daughter was sort of the principal Princeton photographer
for a great many years. I haven't seen her for several years, but she is
probably responsible for most of the graphics of Princeton of the past fifty
years or so. Anyway, Menzies was another character. He felt that Eyring was
probably a flash in the pan and would disappear after a while. But Menzies, on
the other hand, was very amusing and was pretty much up to date. He felt that
Werner complexes told you a great deal about inorganic chemistry. This was way
00:34:00ahead of his time, because [F. A.] Cotton and the other people now are pointing
this out. Menzies didn't quite know what they told you, but he had a great
instinct that they did. I think he had a deep feeling that here was some kind of
balance between ionic bonding and covalency, and he had us making these things.
I made all these complexes Saturday after Saturday--an admirable laboratory
exercise. But he also had a very amusing feeling for some of the earlier
inorganic chemists. There was the fellow at Wisconsin, for instance, who didn't
believe in ions. They called him "the great ionoclast," because these ions, you
know, are still the basic elements of chemistry. [laughter]
STURCHIO: [Louis] Kahlenberg?
BAKER: Yes. So Menzies was invigorating that way. I had very little to do with
[William T.] Richards. Richards drank himself to death. He was the son of
Theodore William Richards at Harvard, who was for some time the greatest
00:35:00American chemist. He was a sort of progenitor of G. N. Lewis. You probably have
things about Theodore William Richards, but this Richards was a highly appealing
person, very cultivated, very brilliant. Goodness knows what he would have done
if he hadn't had so many other diversions. He died fairly early. Colloid
chemistry didn't make a profound impression. It didn't make much of an
impression on Richards either. We were beginning to get away from it. It was the
chemistry of aggregates long before we really got into solid state. If they'd
been smart, they'd have gotten into solid state that way. [Donald P.] Smith was
a great exponent of the German school of metallurgists--"Das System." Smith was
the last. He still had influence when Morrie [Morris] Tanenbaum studied
00:36:00metallurgy at Princeton. He's doing very well in AT&T. Then here's Smyth on
molecular structure. Smyth was a very thoughtful, scholarly exponent of what was
being learned, of course. He had studied with [Peter] Debye, not only on
dipoles, which we'll undoubtedly come back to, but also on electron scattering.
Beach, one of the fellows I mentioned from Berkeley, came with him during the
years I was there and made it the world's most sophisticated electron
diffraction laboratory. They built it from the ground up. Beach really did the
design--Smyth helped somewhat--and we built it there. I had a very minor part in
it. This was crucial, because there was a great argument between Pauling and
Debye. Debye pointed out that a lot of Pauling's diffraction analyses were
illusions because there weren't actual maxima in the diffraction. There were
simply large-scale variations in intensity. Well, Debye was right, but Pauling
00:37:00was right, too, in that you could derive from those shells values of the
diffraction parameters that did give you a distance between atoms and molecules.
This was the first time anybody had really accurate spacing inside a molecule.
You had the work in crystals before. So this was an exciting deal and Smyth was
much involved in that. Of course, dipoles and the dielectric properties of
solids were his special interests. I think he was encouraged by Eyring's
theoretical work, but he was already committed to the notion that you could do
something about the chemistry of solids, which people were generally not much
concerned with. Solid state was a pure fantasy at that stage. Now down in the
physics department, [Eugene] Wigner was creating the physics of solids. Much the
most enterprising in the world, Wigner came from Europe, of course, and he
brought it into Princeton with the great tradition of von Laue and [Arnold]
00:38:00Sommerfeld and others. He had a fascinating interaction with Eyring. Wigner was
very rigorous and very elegant, and Eyring thought that was a waste of time,
that with chemistry giving way to quantum mechanics as it was, you didn't bother
with rigor and elegance. But personally they got along pretty well and they sort
of argued each other out of things. Wigner thought Eyring was crazy, Eyring
thought Wigner was rigid and impossible, but they got along quite well. Wigner,
of course, is still very active there. Now, what I was getting to in this is
that [Frederick] Seitz and [William] Conyers Herring were primarily students of
Wigner's. They really brought this along. I got to know Conyers in particular
very well, and then got convinced that chemistry and physical chemistry of
solids had a future as well. At that point Conyers and Wigner were demonstrating
that lithium and to some extent sodium chloride, but the metal lithium in
00:39:00particular, could be understood from first principles and quantum mechanics. So
everything was coming together there. So much for Smyth. We'll get back to him.
[N. Howell] Furman was the very distinguished analytic fellow. As you know,
American analytical chemistry has had its ups and downs. Following T. W.
Richards and others it was in a down stage, but not with Furman. Furman had
grabbed the analytical techniques, and that had a profound effect on me. I'll
mention a couple of cases. When we came to synthetic rubber, we had injected
that whole phase of chemistry in there. [Robert R.] Williams here [Bell Labs],
who became the national head of the program, went out and captured [Izaak]
Kolthoff, Furman, and various others to do it.
had a very strong effect on me at this stage because they were using
00:40:00voltammetry, the new electrochemistry. It was the very, very early hints, as a
matter of fact, of chromatography, but particularly the whole field of
electrometry with great elegance. Earle Caley was an assistant to Furman and a
good teacher. He became a professor at Ohio State for a great many years and
just died last year. I knew Caley very well. Caley and Furman had so good an
influence that when I was sort of finishing up their courses in advanced
analytical chemistry I undertook a little job for Caley based on uranyl triple
00:41:00acetates. This was an extension of the undergraduate work I'd enjoyed very much.
This was 1937 or 1938. I guess the publication was probably in
Nuclear fission had been discovered, and they
desperately needed methods of analyzing uranium. When we first began, it was
kind of a curious study because it had a very high molecular weight. As an
analytic reagent people said you couldn't handle that kind of compound, a triple
acetate. But then it began to appear that people were getting very interested in
uranium and this had a large leverage factor in uranium analysis. That is a
factor so that what you separate gives you a magnified measure of the ions
00:42:00you're looking for. So we did this initial work on the characterization and
analysis of uranium through the uranyl triple acetate salt. I was always very
intrigued. This was almost kind of a hobby. But it reflects the point we're
making here that Caley and Furman really had a first-rate analytical milieu
there. The fact that we did this early work in uranium was perhaps somewhat
coincidental with its later importance, but it worked out very well. We had very
accurate results. Then we come to the other domain, which was the organic work.
Well, the organic work never got to the levels of Harvard, Illinois, and
California. It was always a strong struggle. They were competent, but they never
had a large enough operation to get to those levels. [Eugene] Pacsu was
00:43:00Hungarian, of extraordinary humor and ability and humanism. He was deserving. He
never got to quite the same group as Wigner, [Edward] Teller, and that
particular colony of Hungarian physicists, but in chemistry he had many of the
same properties. He was creative, had all the old cultural background of
Hungary, and he studied carbohydrates in a way which I found very intriguing. I
took a lot of his courses and I particularly worked with him in organic
analytical work because I thought somebody ought to be able to apply modern
physical chemistry to the characterization of complex molecules. This was a
00:44:00little predecessor to the polymer era. He had worked with Claude Hudson, who was
at Princeton for a while, and then he went to Washington and headed much of the
sugar and carbohydrate work. Pacsu had a little finger in solid state chemistry,
too, in that you can't crystallize these darn things very well. There was a
great legend that certain laboratories had nuclei in the dust in the air. If you
did experiments on new sugars, new carbohydrates, in those laboratories, you'd
be able to crystallize them and then you'd have something. If you didn't do it,
you wouldn't know what you had. Well, Pacsu's laboratory had some of those
nuclei, so we were able to crystallize things. [Everett S.] Wallis was a lively
fellow who had a premature death. He had an important part in early Merck work
00:45:00on antibiotics and the like. I took his courses, but I never got really close to
him. [Gregg] Dougherty created the worst smells in the eastern hemisphere.
[laughter] He was a sulfur chemist. You have no idea how these could permeate
the whole region, and it took only a few molecules. Dougherty died only a few
years ago, probably by inhaling enough sulfur.
STURCHIO: Were you formally in the program between the physics and chemistry
departments? For instance, a few years earlier Joseph Hirschfelder had been a
student of both Eyring and Wigner.
BAKER: Joe was just finishing up when I began. We overlapped for a couple years,
and indeed I was rather inspired by Joe's work. He was an Eyring disciple, of
course. Yes, I didn't formally combine quite as much as he did, but it was
00:46:00substantively just about the same. [Gaylord P.] Harnwell did the first neutron
work and later became president of the University of Pennsylvania. I worked with
his apparatus-----a good Pennsylvanian! I produced some of the targets that he
had. These were neutrons before there were bombs. Nobody knew exactly what they
were going to do. [James] Chadwick had discovered them. Chadwick came to Bell
Labs, and we had a great time with him. I was his host. We had just built the
auditorium over there and it had a screen floor so that there were no
reflections. You had to walk out into a chamber that was forty or fifty feet
tall. I couldn't get Chadwick to do it because he was scared of it. [laughter]
00:47:00You probably wouldn't do it, either! Anyway, this was a rambling answer to your
question. Yes, we combined the physics and chemistry pretty much as I indicated
in the first place.
STURCHIO: Did you have any contact with the heavy water work that was going on
in the chemistry department at that time?
BAKER: Not really. By contact we were all well informed because Hugh Taylor had
gotten hold of this with Harold Urey. He and Urey had gotten to be very
congenial. Hugh Taylor had struggled with the kinetics of hydrogen reactions so
long that he felt that deuterium just had to be the magic tracer. He got it from
Urey, who was at Columbia. He did introduce enough deuterated material so that
he got some very early kinetics results using deuterium as a tracer. Then he got
very interested in isotope separation, but this was still before the nuclear
00:48:00reactions. There was a young physicist in Germany who had worked on thermal
diffusion separation of deuterium or of hydrogen-bearing compounds where the
lower diffusion rates of the deuterium component would permit you to have a
separation due to thermal diffusion. I can see it just as plainly as if it were
yesterday. Hugh Taylor set up a column in the stairway of Frick Laboratory which
had about four stories at that point. Nelson Trenner and a couple of other
people had to spend their lives making that darn thing work. There was a hot
interior and a cold exterior and the separation factors would be parts per
million or parts per billion. But there was a slight enrichment, so Taylor
00:49:00STURCHIO: Earlier you mentioned the seminar where Bohr described the new work on
fission. Could you talk a bit about both that seminar and other seminars at Princeton?
BAKER: These were very active matters which occurred at least weekly and
sometimes more than that. They were sponsored by Taylor, who always sat up front
but kept very close check of everybody else who was sitting in the rear. That
is, the students in particular were expected to turn up at these seminars. You
can hardly imagine this now, but the main attraction was that you had free tea,
which was pretty rare! Taylor saw to it that this seminar room was indeed well
equipped with tea and a certain kind of cookie. That was absolutely decisive for
the attendance of all the graduate students, which is exactly what he wanted.
[laughter] They were very exciting events. [Sir John E.] Lennard-Jones had a
00:50:00classic debate with Eyring about the structure of the activated complex.
Pauling, of course, came. People came from Europe, major figures in physical
chemistry with a certain interlarding of physicists. We'll get to the Bohr
seminar. There were exciting revelations. These were held in the latter part of
the afternoon and if it was less exciting, after the tea there was a certain
amount of drowsing as well. Taylor never did that himself, but he never looked
back. Professors came sporadically. Eyring was usually pretty active. Eyring
would get up about halfway through or sometimes all the way through the
visitor's talk and explain to the visitor what he really meant [laughter]
because the visitor was not as well acquainted with the modern theory as Eyring.
00:51:00This was when quantum mechanics was really getting injected into chemistry, and
these poor visitors who were very distinguished people were following along a
great tradition of describing some kind of experiments or descriptions or
hypotheses that they had thought were all right, but Eyring knew he had a better one.
STURCHIO: That could have been disconcerting.
BAKER: Oh yes, they would stand there with their mouths literally open because
Eyring was a very dynamic person. He died at the age of eighty-one or eighty-two
just a couple of years ago. I saw a great deal of him in his later years. That
was all very amusing, because he never lost the ebulliency or enthusiasm that he
had. Because I was partly enrolled in physics, I used to go to their seminars
pretty often, too. Einstein would come reasonably often. I didn't understand
what was happening some of the time, but if something significant was being
00:52:00said, Einstein would say "pfff." [laughter] This was in the old Palmer
Laboratory. That was a fairly helpful signal. These seminars were pretty heavily
devoted to nuclear physics, which was going strongly. There was barely a taste
of Wigner's work. Wigner was carrying on, but he wasn't spending a lot of time
in giving seminars on the subject. But there were very interesting ones with the
nuclear people and occasionally astrophysics and things of that nature. The
people from Copenhagen were quite regular attendees. So were the people from
00:53:00Berlin, Stuttgart, the southern German universities which were very
active--Munich, Heidelberg. Through the physics seminars we kept in fairly close
touch with what was going on in those institutions. Bohr was there for a
semester. I mention all this because it was a kind of environ that he enjoyed.
[John A.] Wheeler had just joined the faculty. He was a very young professor and
had been very friendly with a couple of us in chemistry. We'd known him very
well. Bohr got a cable from [Otto] Hahn, I think it was, and [Fritz] Strassmann
had signed it, saying that uranium had undergone fission and gave these large
nuclei. Well, Bohr was astonished. I think nobody thought you'd get that kind of
00:54:00splitting. Alpha particles or other things were what you'd expected. So he
called a seminar for about 5:00 p.m. in the Palmer Laboratory. People realized
something was going on so they had it in a large lecture room and equipped Bohr,
who was a noted mutterer, a noted mumbler, with a microphone. In those days it
had to have a cable to a loudspeaker. Bohr took off on the explanation of
nuclear fission. First he described what he'd been told when he had gotten this
information from Germany. Quite early in the seminar it became clear that there
was a strong possibility of Bohr choking himself because he held onto this thing
00:55:00and he'd get the cord around his neck. [laughter] But we managed to get through
that. The more memorable feature of it was that he had a big blackboard, and he
would write this reaction with these fission particles and then he would try to
estimate the energetics of it. Of course, it looked as though you were getting
an enormous energy emission plus an actual conversion of mass, and the
conversion of mass was the terribly revolutionary part of it. Bohr would think
about this and he'd say what he thought the probable mechanism was, for example,
the water drop model--earlier in the afternoon he and Wheeler had done some work
on that--then he would get a slight revision of ideas, and he'd mumble the end
of the sentence and you couldn't hear it. Then he'd start over again on another
mechanism, and he'd get to the end of that sentence and mumble that! Well, you
00:56:00can see the very strong impressions one got. But they were symptomatic of the
excitement and the energy of the period, in which everybody was learning a lot.
These seminars, as I. sort of implied before, were frequently carried on at the
graduate college because the people, both professors and the students and
visiting professors, would often live there. We'd have evening sessions which
were exceedingly illuminating. They were informal enough so that you could
really get exchange. They completely abandoned the old European traditions of
"Herr Professor" and you really got ignoramuses like myself with a chance to
talk back and forth and ask questions. There was a brilliant young physicist
named [Malcolm R.] MacPhail who was a very good friend, and he would help us
phrase the questions somewhat. [I. I.] Rabi used to come down there. He's come
00:57:00down for these evening events from Columbia and spend all night. We had very
GOLDSTEIN: You mentioned quite a few Europeans coming over
to partake in what was going on at Princeton. Did people like Eyring or others
go to other European universities to proselytize their ideas, or was it all
coming one way?
BAKER: No, they exchanged. Of course, in those times there was a very free
exchange. Taylor went every other year. Smyth went every other year, not to
spend the whole year, but at least the summer and to some extent a month or two
in Germany and Britain. There was relatively less interest in France and no
interest in Japan, but very strong exchanges in the U.K. and Germany, and to
00:58:00some extent in Brussels. Brussels was a pretty lively Paris of the north in
those days. There was a professor named Errera who was a pioneer in infrared
spectroscopy. In that kind of spectroscopy you had dipole moments that determine
the transition probabilities. He was a good friend of Smyth's. He spent some
time at Princeton, and Smyth spent some time there. Taylor got interested in
Louvain. That was where the Abbe Georges Edouard Lemaitre was having ideas about
the origin of the universe, but there was also some very interesting work on the
kinetics of chemical change there, so he spent time there. You make a good
point. We had very clever methods--partly teaching, partly books, partly
conferences and so forth--to keep the whole Atlantic basin in good exchange.
00:59:00GOLDSTEIN: What comes to mind is how this free flow of ideas, including other
universities and other countries, seems to echo what took place later at Bell Labs.
BAKER: Yes. Bell Laboratories was not detached from all this, of course. The
solid state era hadn't come on, but the discovery that electrons were waves was
absolutely basic to all the chemistry and physics we've been talking about. S.
[Stanley] O. Morgan had been one of Smyth's earliest students, then joined the
Laboratories and begun the work in dielectrics here. That had attracted a lot of
interest in the university world. [audio ends 59:50]
[END OF AUDIO FILE 1.2]
01:00:00[audio from 1:00:36 to 1:01:49 is a repeat of the audio segment from 58:40 and 59:50]
BAKER: [new audio resumes 1:01:50] There was, of course, Williams' noted work on
vitamins, which didn't have a strong impact because Princeton wasn't quite up
01:02:00with that. Columbia and other biochemical centers were much more active in that
area. Smyth was really a major link. [Robert M.] Burns kept a good connection
though with the inorganic work at Princeton, and Bums, of course, was very
strong. He had written his ACS monographs and other things on electrochemistry
of which [George A.] Hulett was the great Princeton
Hulett had a stroke just before I got
there, but Hulett never gave up. His house was right next to the Frick
Laboratory, and he dragged himself back and forth and did some modest
experiments. But Taylor and Eyring and the others were just not going to tarry
on electrochemistry at that point, although Eyring did some theory on it. It had
01:03:00been the great adjunct to inorganic chemistry in the earlier development of
American chemistry. In the Bell Labs it was still exceedingly important and R.
M. Burns was the principal exponent. This was something he never lost. He was a
student there, and he kept strong links with the faculty almost all the rest of
his life. It is amusing that electrochemistry at Princeton took form only
through the very elegant analytical work of Furman in those years, whereas here
Burns kept a lot of research going.
STURCHIO: You've mentioned Smyth a number of times in the last few minutes. I'd
like to move on to your work with him at Princeton. What were the circumstances
in which you decided to do your thesis research with him?
01:04:00BAKER: They were really derived from all this background that you've been so
patient in hearing about already. Namely, that physical chemistry was going to
be the frontier, that it had to have close links with physics, that there was
something you could do with solids, with aggregates of atoms beyond the old idea
that you only had one or two. I was much intrigued by the sophisticated
instrumentation such as the Shackelton bridge, which Smyth had. Marcy is either
too modest or too reserved to rise up at that point because W. J. Shackelton was
a great Bell Laboratories designer, and here was a fellow in chemistry using
what seemed to us to be some of the most advanced techniques of engineering and
physics--particularly electronics. So I thought this was a good thing to try.
Smyth's laboratories were full of this equipment. You didn't see many test
01:05:00tubes! I liked the test tubes a little because of this work I'd done with Caley
and Pacsu. But Smyth had a great concern about test tubes in the sense that he
had a great concern about purity and characterization of matter, whereas the
physicists were perfectly willing to get hold of whatever they could. That was
an attractive difference.
STURCHIO: The concern with the purity of materials was crucial to polymer
chemistry, and that undoubtedly was a useful principle to have inculcated.
BAKER: I think so, Jeff. At that point, there wasn't any physical organic
chemistry. Organic chemistry simply did not deal with purity at the levels we
01:06:00now regard as utterly essential. I was interested in these organic molecules. In
the first place, Smyth had done dipole moments on them. That wasn't so
demanding, but as soon as you began to do any kind of dielectrics or wave
propagation studies in organic systems, you had to leap to a level of purity
which the organic people felt was nonsense. You had to do that because of the so
called Maxwell-Wagner polarization, which meant that any ions that were in
there, any separate charges, were going to have a tremendous influence on the
dielectric properties and on the measurements that you did. So we went into a
completely different scale of effort. Smyth demanded that. Smyth himself was not
captivated by the notion of spending weeks and months on the purification of
01:07:00organic materials, but he demanded that somebody do it, and we were the ones who
did it. We didn't have chromatography, which would have been useful for
separations. We did conventional separations, but pretty largely very extended
recrystallizations which the classical rare earth people--even though well
before the time of [Frank H.] Spedding--had really introduced. They had not
applied it to organic materials, but they had introduced this. So we did that;
these were the birth pangs--and they were pretty "pangy"--of solid state. If
we'd known anything like [William G.] Pfann's work [on zone refining], it would
have been wonderful. We'd have used that for these organic structures, and
wouldn't need anything else. But we didn't have that.
STURCHIO: Getting back to that point about recrystallization, was there word
around about the molecular stills that people were using at DuPont?
01:08:00BAKER: You're thinking of [Wallace H.] Carothers' and [Julian] Hill's polyester
work. Oh yes, we knew about that with enthusiasm, but not much attention was
paid to it until I came to the Bell Laboratories. [Calvin S.] Fuller at the Bell
Laboratories really understood that. Incidentally, it was a rather limiting
factor. It kept DuPont from getting the polyester molecular weights which they
really should have. But it was nevertheless an important step. We did not really
understand that at Princeton. It's curious. As you know, these molecular stills
were really discovered by [Kenneth C. D.] Hickman at Eastman Kodak, which then
formed a separate company called Distillation Products. They didn't apply them
so much to polymers, but Hickman discovered these and Eastman really engendered
01:09:00that era of organic separations. Distillation Products became a very profitable
and fashionable firm. As a matter of fact, some of the earliest synthetic drugs
were greatly enhanced and perhaps even produced by that molecular still system.
I hope I'm not giving you too long answers to these questions.
STURCHIO: No, I'm very interested to hear this. As long as I brought up
Carothers' and Hill's work, if you can put yourself back in the mind-set of 1936
to 1938 when you were doing this work, what was the contemporary knowledge of
polymer science at the time?
BAKER: Very primitive. On the one hand, I was much stirred, as were other
people, by the peptide and virus work of [Wendell M.] Stanley and [Howard K.]
Schachman and others at the Rockefeller Institute which was there next to the
01:10:00university. They used to come to our seminars, and we went to their seminars
occasionally, I used to see Stanley getting on the bus. He lived in Princeton,
and they had a bus that went out to what is now Forrestal Campus. This was
really quite exciting. There are these big molecules, and the idea was that the
viruses were living structures, yet on the other hand they were going to be
dealt with as macromolecules. [John H.] Northrop used to come to our seminars a
lot. Taylor had a lot of respect for Northrop because he dealt with solutions.
So did [Moses] Kunitz. Even though they were solutions of peptides and proteins,
our people, Taylor and others, felt that they were probably legitimate. The
illegitimacy would come in if they were simply colloidal dispersions, but these
people dealt with them as solutions and they crystallized them, which is solid
01:11:00state again. So that was a very strong influence. We also had commercial people
at these seminars. New Jersey was where Bakelite originated. [Leo H.] Baekeland
himself came a time or two. These were regarded as hopeless messes. These were
phenolics, and you couldn't get anything out of that. Taylor again was the one
who had the very inquiring mind here. Taylor felt sort of vaguely uneasy that
chemistry hadn't done more with natural rubber, Ho/ea rubber. He was curious
about the proteins and the denaturation which much changed their solubility
properties. It was sufficiently intriguing so that he egged Eyring into getting
into that. Well, Eyring's idea of getting into it was to read everything that
was known, and talk to people, and then get a theory which was really quite
01:12:00interesting. About the time, as a matter of fact--it was before the time Pauling
had the helix structure--Eyring had the idea of denaturing proteins in some kind
of molecular change like that. He wasn't terribly specific, but he published
some on it.
So these polymer instincts were strong,
with a little curiosity about cellulose on the part of Pacsu, who thought it was
pretty hopeless too, but it was there, and you ought to know something about it
and this work on rubber.
STURCHIO: Eyring had published a paper on calculating the distance between ends
of long molecules, hadn't he, in the early 1930s?
BAKER: You're probably right. This is the old mean distance or probable chain
length, but I wasn't much impressed by it.
STURCHIO: I was just trying to get at whether you and your graduate student
01:13:00colleagues and the faculty were reading this literature. This was just a couple
of years after [Herman] Mark and [Eugene] Guth's work on rubber elasticity, and
[Werner] Kuhn's paper on that first statistical mechanical analysis of polymer chains.
BAKER: That's right. Mark and Kuhn were still having a strong debate which we
were slightly amused by. Mark at that point was still inclined toward the
colloidal dispersions, and Kuhn said, "It can't be, because we have these
molecules." You've got this all in your polymer history, which would be a very
useful thing to bring out.
So the result was that
people at Princeton were vaguely amused, but there wasn't any very serious
examination of it. I think Eyring's interest, and I must say I've forgotten the
paper that you're referring to, was an exercise in statistical mechanics. He was
very interested in bond rotations. This came up in connection with the
appropriate partition function for hydrocarbons, for even ethane and a few other
things. Of course, the ultimate exercise in bond rotations would be a great big
01:14:00molecule that had a thousand bonds, and then you could have a lot of rotations.
Now you're making me remember. That's what he was somewhat interested in. But
polymers were regarded as rather formidable.
STURCHIO: Were you following Carothers' review articles and [Herman]
BAKER: I did very little. I was quite blank about this. I was much concerned
with crystals and with the thermodynamics and properties of melting and the
like. But Taylor had his eye on it. Taylor of course had DuPont connections, and
he had comments about Carothers' fibers. In terms of molecular structure, no one
did work of much consequence. Now this changed dramatically at Bell
Laboratories. Bell Laboratories was right on top of it, and when I came to Bell
01:15:00Laboratories, the interest I had in ester linkages and the like, we just leapt
into that. Our interests in ester linkages with Smyth were primitive compared to
what Carothers had done, but in detail there was considerable overlap. Namely,
we published the dielectric properties of ethyl stearate, ethyl palmitate, and
longer chain esters already at twenty atoms or so.
This was regarded by most physical chemists as absurd, because you couldn't deal
with that many things together--and by the polymer chemists as nonsense, because
they weren't big enough to be polymers. But we studied melting properties and
transition properties of cetyl alcohol at sixteen atoms in the chain. I was well
prepared to be stirred, but this happened at Bell Laboratories; I wasn't stirred
by polymers at Princeton. I was only really interested in those peptides, but
not very seriously.
01:16:00STURCHIO: You've already begun to talk about that work, which I wanted to ask
you about next. I think this is your first publication from the Journal of
BAKER: Yes, you're quite right. [looking at article] This is a tribute to the
precision of CHOC, you see! It is interesting from the point of view of history
that this was considered to be a long chain molecule, but I must say I didn't
translate that to the notion of polymers at that stage. I very quickly did when
I came to Bell Laboratories two years later. This stuff was very curious because
it exhibited properties you'd now call liquid crystal behavior in this narrow
transition region. It's very funny that the physicists, some of the most elegant
physicists that we have here--as Marcy knows they are very elegant indeed--have
01:17:00begun to consider these phenomena in the last couple of years, forty years later.
STURCHIO: Were you the only student working on these problems with Smyth at that time?
BAKER: He had a couple of other students working on more conventional
properties. One fellow turns up at your place. His name now is Lewis. He worked
at DuPont for many years. He lives not too far from Philadelphia. He's a rather
short chap, but he's very lively. He's a quite interesting character. George
Lewis. His name then was Leotsakis and he was from Greece, perhaps one
generation or so. Very bright chap. He struck us because he had that natural
ingenuity and versatility to deal with a situation that the Greeks are noted
for. So I wanted you to know that if you run into George Lewis, that's really
01:18:00Leotsakis, who was an early Smyth student of considerable skill. As I mentioned,
Beach was working on electron scattering. There was somebody else. There was a
fellow who was doing a chemical engineering senior thesis whose name was William
Kistler Coors. I worked with him to help him on the instrumentation. He owns
Coors beer. And he learned something about beer. I said, "Look, you're going to
have to go out there and run your father's company. You ought to realize that
you can measure refractions in this stuff even though it's so highly colored."
Well, he was a student doing his senior research and this was great news to him,
because he didn't realize that anomalous dispersion could be dealt with. You
could do certain corrections even if you measured the refraction in the visible
region. So those were students who were around.
01:19:00STURCHIO: You've already discussed some of the things I was going to ask about
your research projects with Dr. Smyth. Here we have a copy of a version of your
dissertation from the Princeton archives.
BAKER: You may be the second person who's ever read this. Smyth had to look at
it, and now we've got somebody else! [laughter]
STURCHIO: This includes the series of papers that you published with Smyth in
the Journal of Chemical Physics and the Journal of the American Chemical
Looking at this with historian's hindsight,
we can see that this program of research on the dielectric properties of these
medium-length chains has direct relevance to what you ended up doing a couple of
years later. I wonder if you'd talk a bit about that transition.
BAKER: Like so many of these things, it was a good stroke of fate or fortune. I
was very much concerned about these chain structures by this point, even
01:20:00including cetyl alcohol, but I didn't really have enough background in polymers,
nor was I close enough to Carothers' work to have a direct translation of this
work until I saw what the Bell Laboratories people were already interested in.
As soon as I saw that, I really did get excited, because they were recognizing
that Carothers' whole genesis of condensation polymers was appropriate for the
era of structural and dielectric materials that we were headed for in
telecommunications. But the fact that those linkages were crucial in Carothers'
01:21:00work was accidental to me. I didn't really see the whole pattern. Just to say it
again, I did see the whole pattern in a few months after I got going on it.
There is the point, Marcy, that this was a kind of frontier in solid state
chemistry and physics because the dielectric properties, the electrical
properties of these things were determined by the chemical bonds that also were
fundamental for their physical properties. That was kind of news. We had a kind
of feel for it here in the Labs because Williams' and [A. R.] Kemp's people and
a few others had found that rubber and gutta percha were very interesting
dielectrics because they had no dipoles. But they didn't realize what you could
do with dipoles which we, of course, were confronted with by Carothers' work. So
this was an amusing coincidence.
01:22:00STURCHIO: Before we move on to asking you about the Bell Labs work beginning in
mid-1939, I would like to ask about some other people who must have been in the
Princeton department at the time. We talked about most of the faculty. Did you
have much contact with Hubert Alyea, who was another one of the physical chemists?
BAKER: Yes, but Hubert was already much committed to his thing, the teaching of
basic chemistry to non-chemists or to the public or to people who were really
intrigued by the behavior of matter. Now, Hubert did this at his peril, because
Hugh Taylor had thought that Hubert was rather promising as a research fellow.
Alyea was rather creative, but Taylor thought that anybody who spent time just
01:23:00teaching chemistry without doing research was wasting his time. Hugh Taylor had
very strong communications with his colleagues; Alyea just had to go over and
take care of those freshmen, which he did, and which he's done for the rest of
his career. This is all an indirect answer to your point that Hubert's
interactions with us were very modest. He had great enthusiasm. Have you ever
heard his lecture? It goes for about fifty minutes with fifty explosions. It is
a psycho-acoustic visual display that you can hardly beat. I think he still does
it occasionally; I saw him not too long ago. It has gone around the world. One
of my most detailed interactions I very much enjoyed with Hubert was when he was
doing the Brussels World's Fair in 1958. We happened to be over there for other
things, and I helped him get some of his stuff set up. It was a tremendous
01:24:00success. The whole continent of Europe felt that they understood chemistry for
the first time!
STURCHIO: So by that time he had stopped doing work on inhibition and other
things in research?
BAKER: Yes, that was a fairly limited work. It was regarded as very promising.
He used amines as chain inhibitors. He might have been one of the first to
recognize in polymerization the chain transfer you could get from that. It
hadn't come around then, but he didn't follow up.
STURCHIO: John Turkevich had just joined the staff as an instructor.
BAKER: Turkevich was one of that group. He followed [George B.] Kistiakowsky,
one of that group that Taylor attracted for very enterprising work in catalysis
and kinetics. Turkevich demonstrated a lot of courage and ingenuity and got
along very well with Taylor. He did some of the early deuterium catalytic work.
01:25:00Taylor had a great interest in solids because they formed catalysts. He thought
there was some kind of magic in there. He spoke of the activated points in them
and he kept lashing his graduate students, saying, "Why don't you go out and
show me what there is there?" They never quite found it but they did lots of
good work in between. Taylor made me give one of these seminars we were talking
about on F-centers, which were one of the very early and elegant physics
evidences in solids; we now have an F-center laser. Little did I think when I
gave that seminar, which was done with some trepidation, that we would
eventually have at Bell Laboratories an F-center laser which is used for a lot
of things now. This work was done largely in Germany and had to do with missing
ions in halides.
01:26:00STURCHIO: Let me ask about some of your graduate school colleagues. Walter
Kauzmann got his degree a year later, as did Keith Laidler. Walter Moore was another.
BAKER: Walter Moore was a derivative more or less of the Turkevich-Taylor era
and became very much committed to teaching with a respectful amount of research.
Incidentally, he retired to Australia. He taught at Indiana University for a
long time and then decided to go to Australia. If you can imagine an American
physical chemist wanting to spend the rest of his career there. It was partly
because he thought there was going to be a nuclear attack on the U.S.A., but
01:27:00that's an old story. Laidler was an Eyring man who was kind of in-between the
Menzies ion transition and quantum statistics. Laidler's work was pretty much on
the structure of ionic solutions. It was very good solid work, but not revolutionary.
STURCHIO: The Center has an oral history interview with
One of the reasons I was asking you so much
about Eyring and Princeton was that Laidler gave some very interesting testimony
on his perceptions of those years, and we would like to try and combine
different perspectives on the same set of events.
BAKER: Sure, and it is a very valuable part of your enterprise. Doing that is
something that very few archives or historians have done, and it's very interesting.
01:28:00STURCHIO: I wonder if you would look at this list of all the people who got
their degrees from Princeton around the time that you did, and tell me if you
recall anything about some of those individuals? [see following page]
BAKER: I remember every one of them with great enthusiasm. They are awfully fine
people. Bobby [Robert L.] Burwell is at Northwestern and he has kept this as his
main line of work, that these activated catalysts should be explainable in terms
of solid state structures. Clark Miller was a Furman man who was really the
major technical stimulus for Lubrizol. He's known as Bing Miller, and Lubrizol
is one of the great entrepreneurial successes. It had to do with lubricants for
01:29:00automobiles before all the high tech industries got going. [F. T.] Miles was a
Menzies' man who, as you said, spent the rest of his time at Brookhaven. Bill
[William J.] Murray set up the pattern for high quality work at the independent
research institutes. His work was followed very closely by Stanford and Battelle
and others. He was an excellent analytical fellow. Harold State went to a good
old liberal arts college and stayed there the rest of his life. Bud [Ahlborn]
Wheeler, who died prematurely, was another one of the fellows who paid attention
to the physics, quantum statistics in particular. Stevenson I've already
01:30:00mentioned. He was at Shell Development in Emeryville, but I think Dave died a
while ago. Gene [Elgene A.] Smith died. He was a catalyst kinetics man, and very
hard working. [J. W.] Green was a Pacsu man. Now, Green reflects what we were
saying. This is important in American chemistry and in American science in
general. He got some of this wonderful European virus from Pacsu: that you do
things differently; you don't get in a rut; and you attack difficult problems.
While John Green is no intellectual giant, he nevertheless has had a profound
effect on the Institute of Paper Chemistry. He really brought carbohydrate
chemistry into the cellulose technology they had. He is a very good example of
that. Phil [Philip J.] Elving, who died just recently, was one of the principal
01:31:00analytical people, a Caley man who appreciated the Furman work as well. He is
one of the important figures in the survival of American analytical chemistry,
and some of his students are now our principal resources around the country.
[END OF AUDIO FILE 1.3]
BAKER: Jack [John P.] Cunningham was a razzle-dazzle fellow from Taylor's group
01:32:00who never had the faintest desire to be a serious chemist and became a sales
fellow before he died, unfortunately. He was a charming chap from Canada. Fran
Cramer was another Pacsu man, very thorough, but I don't really think he had
anything like the effect that Green had. [Willis A.] Yarnall was an interesting
chap. John Woodman had a whole career at Rohm and Haas before he retired up in
New Hampshire. Ellison. Taylor, though, became the head of the Oak Ridge
chemistry and has been the principal strength of that whole phase of nuclear
chemistry, so it's worth looking at him. You've got him for Carbide but he's
only Carbide by courtesy. I would recommend him very strongly if you want your
01:33:00strands of nuclear chemistry to be followed up. Ellison Taylor is just great.
His son [William Ellison Taylor] is one of the most powerful young economists in
the country, who came to the Bell Labs in our economics department and got his
launching there. He was grabbed by Princeton and has since been grabbed by
Stanford or somebody, after turning down some Harvard appointments. He is a
fascinating figure. Our economics department was destroyed by the government
just a couple of years ago. Carrell Morris was one of the first
environmentalists. Carrell Morris is worth keeping an eye on. He went from
01:34:00Bucknell to Harvard and has been the principal exponent at Harvard of
environmental chemistry. He is in the School of Public Health. He's not in the
chemistry department. He must have retired some time ago but I don't really know
where he is. He's been a very solid strength in the very earliest days of
applying chemistry, including kinetics, to measurements of atmospheric and water
purity. Sam McNeight was a Smyth man who was perfectly responsible, went to
DuPont up at Niagara Falls. He carried a lot of modern science to the Niagara
Falls division of DuPont. [John F.] Kincaid died recently. You can see I'm an
01:35:00expert in deceasing. [laughter] I'm an expert in mortality, if you want. He was
one of Eyring's earliest students in quantum statistics. He spent the rest of
his life in quasi-government service. He was deputy director at the Institute
for Defense Analyses for a while. [Edward G.] Ford has vanished. Hal [Harold]
Fehrer was a lively chap but he died quite early. Ray Ewell was at Buffalo. Now
Ewell was another interesting character. Chemistry was a strategic base for Ray
Ewell. He was very interested in feeding the world, in public health and similar
things. He was a professor at Buffalo for many years but extended his work to
India and had all kinds of international links of chemistry to agriculture, the
01:36:00chemistry of public health, and a few of those things. [Philip I.] Bowman is
non-trivial. He's a bright organic fellow--we didn't have an awful lot of them
at the time--who really got Bristol Myers going in their modern antibiotics and
therapeutics. He headed their laboratory for a long time. He was a major factor.
John Hillman was a sulfa chemist. So was [George] Stoner, who went to GAF. John
Smith went with several oil companies. He is a very close friend of mine, a
delightful fellow, who just couldn't stand the tendency these oil companies had
to twist results. They were major exercisers of product differentiation. They
01:37:00didn't have much else to talk about in those days of petrochemistry. To show
that Exxon--or Esso--was a little bit different than Getty or was a little bit
different than Mobil, the chemists had to push reality pretty hard. Smith
wouldn't stand for that. He went through two or three of these and then became
an early member of the EPA laboratory system. He did that some in the Boston
area, and he's been at North Carolina for all these years. I think he must have
just retired; I must ask him about this. [Daniel R.] Newton has passed along.
George Moore was a metallurgist. He did very good work at the National Bureau of
Standards. Here is the George L. Lewis I was telling you about. Slaughter Warren
01:38:00Lee got Schering, the modern Schering-Plough, going in synthetic organic work.
Seymore Goldwasser I've lost track of, as well as Bill [William I.] Gilbert. I
think Bill Gilbert went to Rohm and Haas, but I think he's since died. John
Flagg retired a few years ago. After the GE Nucleonic Project, he went out to
Universal Oil Products. Flagg was an analytical chemist and he was a committed
analytical chemist. He believed in it; he was with Furman. He really set up the
present form of Universal Oil Products, which is the research part of the Signal
companies which is the oncoming foundation for Allied Signal Corporation. So now
you've brought us right up to the current Wall Street version, you see, and Mary
Good is the head of that now. Perhaps you know Mary; she's a very good person.
01:39:00She's running against Line Hawkins [for ACS President], who's our fellow.
[laughter] I saw Mary down in Washington the other day and told her we've got
too many good people running for one job, because they're both awfully good. I
mentioned Bob [Robert D.] Eddy. He was at Tufts right through his whole career
doing inorganic work. Len [Leonard S.] Echols died some time ago. Seymour
Bernstein was a very bright chap who went into some other thing. I think he went
to do entrepreneurial work in organic antibiotics at one stage. [Richard A.]
Briggs was at Goodrich. [Fritz] Otto Haas regarded his chemistry here
enthusiastically. We worked a lot with Otto in these times. He and his brother
are the Haas of Rohm & Haas, but Otto always wished he'd done more research. He
01:40:00really had a good sense of it. He did it with Dougherty, which was not the most
appealing thing. Ruben Day has done very well at Emory. [Edmund N.] Harvey was a
curious fellow. I think Ned Harvey has perhaps passed on. [Richard W.] Hummer
didn't turn out. [John F.] Lane was lively. Now [Frederick A.] Matson is the
bright element here. You know Matson? He's the best and the most consistent
theorist in Texas, and that's a fairly striking statement because Texas has a
lot of chemists, much more than most parts of the world. He's an Eyring student.
He's carried on quantum statistics very effectively. He's a senior scientist
now, but he's really a very important figure in Texas and in U.S. chemistry.
01:41:00[Richard H.] Wiswall was at Brookhaven. I think he's still there. Allen
Scattergood did an interesting thing. He went to MIT but he came back here and
taught in a community college in New Jersey. He really introduced important
standards of chemistry into the community college and pre-university years.
Well, I enjoyed doing what you asked me to do.
STURCHIO: It's interesting to have your remarks about some of the people who
were graduate students of the time because that doesn't come out of lists like
this. It's very useful.
01:42:00BAKER: That's right, and it bears on both your points. How did chemistry look in
those days? Why did we try to do the things we've done and what are we going to
do about it in the future?
STURCHIO: I analyzed this list and found, interestingly enough, that in the year
you got your Ph.D., nine of thirteen chemistry Ph.D.s of that year went on to
industrial jobs or were in industrial jobs fifteen years later. In fact, if one
looks at Princeton's Ph.D. production in chemistry in the late 1930s and early
1940s, well over half the people went into industrial positions. That is, by the
mid-1950s well over half the people were in industrial jobs and the academics
01:43:00were relatively few and far between. I just wondered if anything about that
BAKER: I think it was largely economics. There just weren't any academic jobs.
They thought they could get me an academic job. They thought I should do that,
and they therefore encouraged me to apply for a National Research Fellowship.
You remember those were the principal postdoctoral positions. They said I would
have gotten one if I hadn't gone to the Bell Labs. They said I was given one.
This was Taylor. Taylor thought I was crazy but not utterly crazy. He knew Bums
well and he thought Bell Labs would be interesting. It was a distinct shift in
that they said I essentially had to resign the National Research Fellowship, and
they felt that I would have gone to Harvard at that point because there were
some interesting things going on there. They thought I would have been pretty
completely contained in the academic realm there.
01:44:00STURCHIO: But that isn't what happened. How you did end up at Bell Labs?
BAKER: Well, I was assured of this National Research Fellowship, which was an
interesting thing and somewhat comforting since there weren't many other jobs or
things to do and I wanted to do that sort of thing. However, there were some
other jobs. I was offered one at DuPont, at U.S. Rubber, which was a very lively
outfit, and a couple of other chemical companies, including Carbide. But by then
the Bell Laboratories had already represented such an extraordinary combination
of industrial and basic science and technology that I was warmly inclined toward
it and very much interested. The people at Princeton were very supportive. The
01:45:00people at Princeton had no doubts in their mind. Of course, Smyth knew it well.
Bums kept people at Princeton well informed. S. O. Morgan was active here.
STURCHIO: Who recruited you for Bell Labs? Was it Bums?
BAKER: Yes. I had long discussions with Williams, however, who was interested,
and discussions with [Mervin J.] Kelly, who took a very keen interest. They were
hiring very few people then, so we got to know these people in charge quite well.
STURCHIO: Was it your work with Smyth that attracted them--the fact that you'd
been working on dielectric properties of organic molecules?
BAKER: I don't really know. That was certainly an element. I guess the people at
01:46:00Princeton were charitable enough to give a fairly warm recommendation. I was
Procter Fellow at the time, which was the ranking fellowship that they had.
STURCHIO: You began working at Bell Labs in May of 1939?
BAKER: Right. I took the wrong ferry to get across the river. Yes, here was the
gang. [see next page] You've looked at this gang I'm pretty sure, Marcy. [James]
Fisk is in there.
STURCHIO: Fisk is right next to you. Charles Townes was a member of the gang as
well. Here's your first notebook page from when you began working at Bell Labs.
[see page after next]
BAKER: You bring reality right to the fore!
01:47:00STURCHIO: From what I've seen of the case files and from other documents that
I've looked at in the archives, you started working at the Summit Labs with
Fuller and [J. H.] Heiss. Could you say something about the context of your
beginning work at Bell Labs?
BAKER: Fuller was the big character and he was just a tremendously stimulating
and creative person, a very encouraging person. Stanley Morgan also had a major
activity there, and Addison White and a couple of others were very creative as
well. But Fuller was the key element as far as I was concerned. He was a
graduate of Chicago and just had a natural talent for originality and for
relating basic scientific work to applications. Fuller, who was stimulated by
01:48:00Williams but nevertheless was very keen on this himself, realized that the
future of our business was in materials. At that point, as it remained for
thirty years, we were the largest consumer of materials, the largest capital
investor in the country. We invested about seven or eight percent of the total
gross national product each year until about 1980. He realized that materials
were the key to that. That's what we spent our money on. There was a new wave of
synthesis building up, and we had been tremendous users of wood, cotton, paper.
This huge building at Kearny that you go by each time you go to New York was
full of people putting all this stuff together. They realized, Fuller in
01:49:00particular, that there should be an era of synthesis and creating matter that
met our very exacting and demanding requirements. That latter was what we had
been living by. We had such demanding requirements. Quality assurance had come
along. It was an analytical era that Burns and Williams and others had pursued.
We had such specific requirements that ordinary raw materials had an agonizing
time meeting them. We thought that some of these new things could probably fit.
Fuller was aware of Carothers' work. It was very exciting. He was aware of
studies in other fields, Europe in particular, and vinyl polymerization which
01:50:00came out of Goodrich. He, was very much interested in what the synthetic
implications of rubber vulcanization were. We did the most violent and at the
same time most efficient rubber reactions that anyone had ever heard of. At the
Point Breeze plant but also at some of the other plants, they were extruding at
speeds many times that of the tire companies. The reactions took place very
rapidly. We used very high accelerating materials. This was all kind of
witchcraft and Fuller thought there was some kind of solution to that.
STURCHIO: So he was the one behind the case for the structures and properties of
high polymeric substances, the moving force for getting authorization for that.
There is a very interesting review of the state of knowledge of polymers in the
memorandum that argued for the case.
01:51:00BAKER: Yes. That was Fuller almost entirely. He had also recognized the company
had bought the first polyethylene that was ever made. It was made over in
England by ICI. They bought it in hundred-pound lots to put in the cable between
Washington and Baltimore. This was where Morgan's people realized what the
properties were, and they put some of the technical folks on it. It was the only
substance that would permit the propagation of waves in that coaxial cable,
which was a very advanced one indeed. Fuller recognized that here was a
synthetic hydrocarbon, and nobody knew what it was going to do, but it sure
enough had the right structure. This was the stuff the people in England were
01:52:00scraping at with their bombs to make this in a high-pressure process. So that
was the sort of enthusiasm that was around.
STURCHIO: When you arrived, there had been work going on for eighteen months
synthesizing different polyesters and polyamides, so that you came into a
project that was well along. In fact, as we can see from the notebook, you were
doing some studies of the physical properties of one of these many compounds
that Fuller's group had been working on.
BAKER: That's right. Fuller had picked up the synthetic side and he said to
himself and to others that he would make these polyesters and polyamides--and
particularly polyesters--and see whether they could qualify for the insulation
and dielectric and structural properties that we were talking about.
STURCHIO: Could you tell us about the atmosphere in the Summit Laboratory [see
next page], as opposed to what you'd found at the Frick Laboratories at Princeton?
01:53:00BAKER: It was vastly more unstructured, entrepreneurial, and with an application
forever in mind. That is, we really had the objectives of use rather than merely
understanding. But understanding was by no means excluded, and it was regarded
as a terribly important element in how you got to use it. The other point was
that we had all kinds of resources to do experiments that were very demanding in
translation between test tube or laboratory bench and application. Now, the
Frick Laboratories had excellent shops and glass blowers and mechanics in those
01:54:00days, but they would be restricted to very special purposes of building Smyth's
new electron diffraction apparatus. At Summit and throughout the Bell
Laboratories a whole army of effective experts in machines, in chemicals, and in
apparatus were at your disposal. They did synthesis or apparatus-making very
professionally because they always had in the back of their heads--and the
leaders always had in the back of their heads--that we may want to use this in
the factory and translate it into engineering. Another way of saying it would be
that there was a very strong engineering cast which may have been concentrated
on end use or it may have been concentrated on laboratory apparatus or whatever,
but it was always there.
01:55:00STURCHIO: What was the equipment availability, like the x-ray diffraction
apparatus that you must have been using?
BAKER: We had very modern equipment of that sort. The Bell Laboratories was very
rapid in its responses to get the very best measurement. We've had the other
philosophy which we tried to extend and emphasize in our time, that if you
couldn't measure it then you really didn't know it. You didn't understand it. We
looked for every kind of very applicable measurement techniques and physical
techniques. In x-rays we had the latest GE equipment that was available. We had
monochromators; we had photometers; we had all kinds of equipment that extended
the frontiers of x-ray scattering in those days. This was also true of vacuum
systems and so on.
STURCHIO: How would you compare the exchange of ideas among the staff and with
01:56:00other elements of the chemical laboratories of Bell Labs with what went on at Frick?
BAKER: This was done by informal seminars and discussions on one hand, but by a
mechanism that was for many years unique to Bell Laboratories and which we were
very proud of: the so-called technical memorandum. A technical memorandum was
very rare in industry then, and it's still pretty rare as being a self-initiated
technical finding, research finding, engineering finding, whatever. The
individual has to take responsibility for writing up what was done, and then it
would be distributed among immediate colleagues but also indexed widely. The
individual had to take responsibility for whether it was any good or not, and
take the flak if it wasn't. This very quickly introduced a sense of concern
01:57:00about how well you were doing, what you were doing, and responsibility for doing
it the best you could in the whole research group. These things were passed
around and were studied. There were never any barriers to people coming and
talking to you and conferring about them.
STURCHIO: I'd like to ask you eventually about some of the early technical
memoranda you did write as part of this research, but could we stay for a moment
with the administration of the research organization in which you found yourself
in mid-1939. Bell Labs at that time was headquartered in New York. What were the
relations between the Summit Laboratory here in New Jersey and the headquarters
staff in New York? How were the lines of authority and information set up?
BAKER: It was a very intimate interaction, with the Summit Laboratory
essentially being an extra facility for New York. On the other hand, because it
01:58:00was small and somewhat remote, it developed a kind of esprit de corps, a kind of
pride in what it was doing and the fact that it was not going to be
over-formalized. Nevertheless, the lines of activity were completely centered in
New York and we went there often for conferences, for these seminars we were
talking about, for special facilities and the rest. We had good mass transit and
just got on the train.
STURCHIO: Here's the organization chart for the Chemical Laboratories in
mid-1940, [see next page] so this was about a year after you joined the Labs.
Would you say something about it? For instance, when I looked at this it
occurred to me that this [#1240, dielectrics research] might have been a logical
place for you to have ended up, working on dielectrics, given what you'd done
your research on at Princeton.
BAKER: Oh, you're quite right.
STURCHIO: But you end up here [#1290, plastics]. I just wondered what the
relations were between Morgan's group and Kemp's group [#1220] working on rubber
and the Summit group.
01:59:00BAKER: They were lively competition, and on the other hand there was a great
deal of collaboration. I was invited to go in Morgan's group. They would have
had a very friendly connection there, and as you noticed very soon we did some
joint work with [William A.] Yager and quite a lot with [K. H.] Storks, who was
interested in structural things. But this group seemed to be where there was a
challenge, for the reasons we've said. Fuller was a very good example of that,
because he saw that the chemistry and the physics that we were interested in
could apply to these materials. This was where the early materials were shaping
up, whereas here it was more conventional. Incidentally, [Girard T.] Kohman did
very excellent work on materials and did much of the early work on cellulose
dielectrics. The first applications of polyesters in film form were done by
02:00:00Kohman, in which he got DuPont to make some and we made some. So there was a lot
of connected work, but this was just a very challenging new arena. We were doing
much more synthesis here. [Bumard S.] Biggs was particularly active in it. We
found very easy interaction among all these people.
STURCHIO: How often would you see Williams and Bums at Summit? What were the
relations up and down the chain of command?
BAKER: Relatively infrequently at that point. I would say if it was once a month
it was often, no more than that. It might have been every two or three months.
02:01:00STURCHIO: One reason I wanted to show you your notebook was to indicate that I
assume reporting results and maintaining records were different at Bell Labs
than they had been for you at Frick.
[END OF AUDIO FILE 1.4]
02:02:00[UNTRANSCRIBED MATERIAL, 2:01:12 - 2:05:28]
[AUDIO FILE 1.5, WHICH CORRESPONDED TO FOLLOWING MATERIAL TO "END OF AUDIO FILE 1.5 (MISSING)" NOT ON FILE]
[BAKER: Yes, vastly. Bell Labs kept a very systematic account of what was done,
partly for patent reasons and partly for the coordination and interaction of the
whole assembly. At Frick we tried to organize as best we could and kept very
detailed accounts of data, but the notion behind experiments was usually written
up after the thing was done. It was quite a different strategy of recording.
STURCHIO: Is this something that you just picked up, or was this all explained
to you--that you have to sign the page, that you have to have it witnessed?
BAKER: It was explained. There was a kind of combination of osmosis and direct
advice, but it was not explained as thoroughly as we do now with our manuals of
patent and invention instructions. GOLDSTEIN: But there was a clear commitment
to disseminate information?
BAKER: Yes, it was a fairly systematic thing.
STURCHIO: I just wanted to ask one last question now. The next time we sit down
I'd like to go into some more detail about the specific polymer projects that
you were working on in the early 1940s and then the synthetic rubber project and
the postwar period. We talked before about the knowledge of polymers that was
common in the Princeton department at the time, and you were working on these
long chain molecules with Smyth. Once you got to Bell Labs you did say that you
began to see immediately what the applications of the new developments in
polymer chemistry were to the work that you were doing. How closely did your
group keep tabs on what was going on at DuPont and in Europe and the frontiers
of polymer chemistry at the time?
BAKER: Very intimately. We spent a lot of time--and I was encouraged to do
this--in literature study. We did not have the best library sources in those
days, and we had to get some of our books, particularly the German ones, from
other libraries. We've now built up a much more complete collection. But it was
very much a part of the culture to pursue and worship the bibliography of
science. This was very different than in some other laboratories. In some
laboratories, people are not encouraged to do that because the thought was that
it might discourage them from their own angles or their own creativity or their
own inventions on the one hand, and on the other hand, it's thought to be a
waste of time sometimes. We never encountered that. We always had great
encouragement to do that. As far as keeping up with the contemporary industry,
we had a pretty good angle there because we were users. Those folks knew we were
not going to go out and compete with them. They worried about it. They thought
that maybe the Western Electric would set up a synthetic division, and at times
we considered that. We told them very frankly when we were considering that, but
we really mostly found that we could stir them and then they stirred themselves
to new products so that we would not become competitors. We became very large
users. This encouraged exchanges. Starting in those relatively early days, we
were somewhat responsible for getting the confidence built up. That eventually
led in the 1960s to a very extensive cross-licensing in chemistry. Of course we
had cross-licensing in other things, too, but my old friend and namesake Carl
Baker engineered cross-licensing with the major chemical companies in the
country. They thought this was rather quaint at first, but the more they thought
about it, the better they liked it. Well, that was the ultimate; that was the
final stage of this exchange that you're talking about. But we did fairly well
in the early stages. We didn't betray any of their confidences. In 1940 we gave
a paper at the American Chemical Society in Detroit, revealing the methods of
crystallizing and strengthening nylon, which was very important from the solid
state side for our usage.
The research director of
DuPont came up to Williams afterwards and said, "You know more about nylon than
we do." He was being generous, but I guess we did know more about that, which
turned out to be the crucial element in their tire cord and other high-tenacity
uses. But it was really reflective of the fact that they had been very
cooperative and we exchanged a good deal of information. The same was true with
Carbide. ICI was the major polyethylene source for a long time before the
Americans began. Rohm and Haas, Bakelite before they became part of Carbide--and
so you go around the whole ring. GOLDSTEIN: There is a not so subtle distancing
of the ties with European trends of thought at that time. It seems like it is
focusing more on the American developments in the exchanges between companies
and universities, and I don't hear you speaking so much about European
developments. Of course, the war had an influence, too.
BAKER: That was the time when the United States was really beginning to take off
in these fields. Up to then the Europeans had the game pretty fully on materials
in particular. I've spoken of the ICI polyethylene, which was very important.
The Germans did a great deal with natural rubber. They did the earliest work in
synthetic rubber. When we get to that stage I'll comment on it. The British were
very good on cellulose, although we were good on cellulose esters. The French
had a role in cellulose esters. We did some of the early work with Celanese
predecessors. I think I have taken more of your time than you really wanted, in
that you were very forthcoming about some of these personalities and the basic
environs. I just want to assure you we won't need to take that much time if you
don't want to. But on the other hand, I'm delighted to do it.
STURCHIO: I've been delighted with our morning's discussion. It's good to have
that kind of background on the Princeton department in those years and on your
own background in chemistry. In the next session we will go into some detail on
the research that was going on in your group in the 1940s and synthetic rubber.
In a way this has all been background to that.
BAKER: I think it has, and it will show up rather sharply in the strategies we
used in synthetic rubber, which of course was organized nationally by Williams,
with Fuller having a strong part in it. Then we brought this polymer science
element in, and as you know, it was the largest chemical materials element in
the war. It was said to be a decisive element. For example, the simple matter of
controlling the styrene content of the GRS produced tank treads and other
vehicle elements that performed in the cold conditions of northern Europe and
elsewhere, in which the German product failed. We were told at the time that
they failed to control the styrene content. There is a significant shift during
the polymerization reaction and Kolthoff and his people and [Carl S.] Marvel and
his people discovered something about the kinetics of that shift. We established
what the content and the structure was, and how much styrene there was, and
began to control that and compensate for this shift. We were told that this was
a crucial element in the campaign in northern Europe for a couple of winters.
But that is only symbolic of the various impacts that the program had. In the
seven hundred sixty thousand tons of polymer that were made during the peak
year, it was said to be the largest synthesis of matter that had ever been
achieved up to that point.
STURCHIO: We'll certainly follow up on that in our next session. Having begun
with the Bell Labs years and gotten some of the background issues out, I think
it is a good place to stop for today. Thank you very much. It has been enjoyable
and we appreciate your taking the time to discuss all of this with us.
BAKER: I can attest to your infinite patience and courtesy. No archivists and
historians have ever shown more courtesy than you folks have. And Marcy is
particularly cordial because we haven't really gotten into the Bell Labs part of
it very deeply--but we shall.]
[END OF AUDIO FILE 1.5 (MISSING)]
02:05:00STURCHIO: [transcription resumes at 2:05:28] Last time, we got through your years at Princeton and your joining
Bell Labs. We began to talk about your encounters with C. S. Fuller, Stanley
Morgan, and some of your other early coworkers. We also began to talk generally
about the way in which Bell Labs' polymer research was administered in the late
02:06:001930s and early 1940s. Let's start with the 1940 organization chart again. I am
interested to hear more about [J. H.] Heiss [Jr.] and Norman Pape, since those
were the people you did some of your early publications at Bell Labs with. What
role did the three of you play in those collaborations?
BAKER: Let's get into that by recalling that this was the birth period of the
solid state era. We were probing in the Bell Laboratories how the chemical and
physical and fundamental engineering resources could combine to introduce a new
wave of discovery relevant to telecommunications and information handling as it
02:07:00came along. The chemical laboratories had already established a strong position
in the study of dielectrics and of conductors. The whole vista of how synthetic
materials could fit the new era that we aspired to for the Bell System and for
telecommunications was in the process of formation. The point you make about how
the first missions could be supported by staff is very central to how this
program shaped up during this prewar period which, as we said, was stimulated by
some of the work in Britain on solids, a growing interest by our own department
of physics, and the admirable work of Davisson and Germer and others in the
02:08:00structures of solids and surfaces. Those resources involved a large range of
talented people. The new members of the staff were supported by skilled
assistants, not ones who could be expected to--or were even interested
in--formulating research programs themselves. Those were the challenges which
the new recruits were given. We were not simply going to carry on what had been
done, but we had better think of something new. There were people such as Heiss
and Pape who knew the operations of the Bell Laboratories, which were not
02:09:00altogether obvious. The resources of the community were generally known to them
in the traditions that the Laboratory had already established. One of those was
a very strong support staff in all sorts of ways, ranging from the library,
which was absolutely essential and fundamental, to shop work and the techniques
of science that you know so well. The people who had started there under the
general leadership of Fuller and Williams, including Heiss and Pape, were the
very responsive and flexible super-technicians, assistants who would learn a
particular complicated method such as x-rays, which we were refracting furiously
02:10:00then. These folks were going to school at the same and they were very much urged
to do that. That is another long tradition in the Bell Laboratories, but this
was an early stage of it, where we recognized their potential. They were urged
to go to night school for at least as much as we could really sustain then. This
really wasn't very far after the Depression. They were excited about learning
chemistry and physics in this case, and certain basic engineering that was a
strong supporting element for their work. This is different than a university
program where an individual is supposed to somehow acquire the necessary
02:11:00facilities and proceed from that point. Here the whole Bell Laboratories was
skillfully organized to provide the facilities so that we really went ahead in
STURCHIO: The first few projects you worked on were with Heiss's and Pape's
help, and with Fuller's, I hesitate to say direction, but leadership.
BAKER: No, leadership is a good word. Fuller was a very good leader. SAIRCHIO:
You started off using x-ray diffraction techniques to study the crystallinity of
a class of polymers and then moved on from that to synthesizing a range of
polyesters and polyamides and investigating the relationship between their
chemical structure and their physical properties. Would you discuss that program
BAKER: Sure. We were much stimulated by Carothers' work at DuPont, where he had
02:12:00indicated that you could create a polymer, a synthetic insulating substance
which was chemically controlled and designed. It was controlled and designed by
either ester linkages or amide linkages or a combination of both. We were much
interested in ester linkages because the Bell System at that point was about the
world's largest user of materials of one kind or another. We had applied
cellulose esters quite extensively all the way from the origins of hi-fi
recordings which were done on cellulose ester disks, to the insulation of a
major portion of our wires and cables. So, here was an idea from Carothers that
said you could synthesize substances which had crystallinity like cellulose did
but which had properties far more versatile and controllable than cellulosics or
02:13:00than any other material that we'd been able to identify up to then. The vinyls
and vinyl esters were vaguely appearing. Polyethylene had just come up over the
horizon from ICI and was quickly grabbed by us as the first very high quality,
high frequency dielectric in cable and quality electronics uses, including the
Baltimore to Washington cable. So here were the kinds of things that were
looming up. Carothers' work struck Fuller, and he really recognized what the
potentials were. Off we went. On one hand, we were much closer to applications
than any university department would want to be or would consider being. We had
02:14:00the use value very much in mind from the very beginning. But on the other hand,
we were not constrained by the technological requirements at that stage. We were
urged to be scientific and look at fundamentals, which was in the tradition of
the discovery by Davisson and Germer of the wave nature of matter, and the
quantum qualities of the electron, of the wave-particle combination in
electrons. It was therefore very different from the straight synthetic position
which the Europeans had applied to polymers with quite some ingenuity in Geneva,
in Germany, and of course in Britain.
02:15:00STURCHIO: One of the things I was impressed by in the work that you did on the
polyesters was the way in which you applied your experience working with Smyth
on dipolar interactions and also what were relatively new ideas about hydrogen
bonding at that time. Were Fuller and the others cognizant of all these new
developments in that area of chemistry?
BAKER: I think they were very alert to it. The others were less interested and
less coached. But you're quite right that in looking at this behavior of ester
linkages and of dipoles in solids, we found we could translate that to these
02:16:00materials of mechanical properties in variable tools of communications to the
Bell System, whether it was for insulating wires and cables or for making
terminal blocks or a variety of other things. It was tremendously exciting to
find that you could transfer dielectric and physical properties of polymers to
things which people had normally felt were unmanageable pieces of gunk which
were used one way or another but which we didn't really understand. That was the
position in that field. Fuller certainly did realize this issue. Polyethylene
was emerging; of course it became the most crucial synthetic material in the
system for many years. We'll come in a few minutes to the idea that it replaced
lead as cable sheath and really equipped the Bell System to move into the
02:17:00postwar era of microwaves and high volume communications. Here it was before the
war. We recognized--and this was not something that Carothers had paid much
attention to--that these polymers were remarkable combinations of polar and
non-polar systems. The polyesters had polyethylene-like contents, the dipoles
were separated by a pure aliphatic hydrocarbon element which was purely linear,
and that gave you a segment which was just like the most ideal polyethylene.
Then you came to a segment which was polar. In the case of polyesters, it was a
carbonyl polarity, and in the case of polyamide, it was much more subtle. It had
peptide linkages. They were known to be one of the most exciting in biosystems.
02:18:00They did show hydrogen bonding, which was very versatile from our point of view.
Pauling was beginning to touch on this but he hadn't come out with his folded
chain yet. It showed conductivity, which remains one of the exciting features.
That was taken up by GE a few years later and became the controlling element in
their electric blankets which were supposed to modulate the agonies of
humankind. [laughter] But these controls were based on the discovery that Yager
and I made of the hydrogen bonding based conductivity. The subsequent findings
showed that the polyamide properties which we published in those years were said
to be and are still said to be the first findings of control of solid-state
02:19:00polymers that were technologically decisive.
came around and told us in a very short time that the fibers of nylon they were
making were really dominated by this thermal annealing which we discovered and
which we later then applied very extensively to the whole fiber and textile
formation. Now, Carothers did recognize this in a synthetic sense. The hydrogen
bonding of the nylons that he synthesized caused the melting point and thermal
stability for wire insulation, which is far better than anything that the Bell
02:20:00System had found before. Before that we were constrained, in the case of very
fine wires which were the essence of magnetic controls which in turn paved the
way for the modern era of telecommunications, to tung oil, which had been
discovered as an insulator, not electrically, but thermally and mechanically and
as a corrosion protection by the Chinese probably at least two thousand years
before and possibly a little longer. So there was an enormous gap and tremendous
changes. The Bell System was the world's largest user of these tung oil
formulations and natural product formulations when we started this work. So it
was rather a change between the most progressive American industry, which we
02:21:00were at that stage, with GE and Westinghouse and all the rest using the same
thing while the systems we were studying here were developing.
STURCHIO: Some of my generation tend to forget that the world wasn't always made
BAKER: That's right. This was a great big thing that occurred.
STURCHIO: You mentioned DuPont, who was responsible between the 1930s and the
postwar period for tremendous changes in the fibers market and the changes from
natural to synthetic fibers. And here in telecommunications there were also
tremendous changes. But it hasn't always been as visible to the public, at least
this particular aspect of it.
STURCHIO: I'm sure that other industries were also shifting to synthetic materials.
BAKER: I'll give you an example. Automobile tires, of course, became terribly
important. We'll get to the synthetic rubber era in a moment, but this is an
aside from that. They were terribly important for the whole progress of our
02:22:00economy. They were reinforced by a fiber, by some form of cellulose. We found
that the thermal annealing of cellulose and its derivatives vastly enhanced the
strength yield point. Eventually this became the basis for Celanese's
commercialization of Arnel. That was a little later but was based on exactly the
same phenomenon. We published the work and Celanese took it over very
Now, the interesting thing was you could
do this with cellulose itself, and this was where a couple of things came
together. A man named [Wayne A.] Sisson at the Boyce Thompson Institute had done
some very good work on the structure of cellulose, particularly plant
02:23:00crystalline systems, linen and flax cellulose which was very heavily structured.
This was very important to the Bell System because we were also enormous users
of cellulose for lots of things, but the tire industry was also dependent on it.
We found that the hydrogen bonding in forms of rayon which were being exploited
then for tires could be vastly improved by certain treatments with solvents or
solvating agents and thermal adjustments. Sisson's work had forecast some of
this because he found there were different levels of order in cellulose. Nobody
knew what they were. What we found from the work of Carothers, which was
invaluably derived from our point of view--we wouldn't have been smart enough to
think of it otherwise--was that this was because of rotational disorder.
Therefore, if you changed the rotation disorder, the orientation around the
02:24:00cellulose axis, you changed the whole structure of the solid, of the fiber. This
was then applied in the tire business, and it was the reason that many of our
tires give superior wear and properties. The modulus of the cellulose was
increased by thirty or forty percent. The tenacity was increased very
significantly. So, by way of responding to your point, the era of plastics and
fibers and polymers was in revolution at this stage.
STURCHIO: It's intriguing to see how a lot of the theoretical insight--namely
the rotational disorder within a reasonably long polymer chain--can lead to
something so immediately practical.
BAKER: Yes. The benefit came because of Bell Laboratories and the Bell System's
commitment to engineering and to technology. These fellows that you mentioned at
02:25:00the beginning were very rare. Heiss and Pape and others in Fuller's group
realized that we'd like to use these effects and use these findings, and they
speeded up the applications very strongly.
STURCHIO: Could you tell us about Yager?
BAKER: Yes. Yager was a fascinating talent in using very highly sophisticated
measurement techniques for the characterization of matter. He is still alive,
although not too well. Now, these measurement techniques had been developed for
telecommunications. Shackelton, who died only few years ago, had a bridge which
was the best measurement for the high kilocycle region. Yager had engineering
skills and a feeling for electronics and for circuitry which were just superb.
The notion of using that for measurements on solids as complicated as polymers
02:26:00was absolutely revolutionary. He did it with very great precision. These
circuits were important for later circuitry in telecommunications. So you had
the methods of communicating, you had the engineering and science of telephony
joining with the engineering and science of polymers, in the form of Yager.
STURCHIO: On that project on the dielectric properties of the polyesters and
polyamides, you did get some advice from Peter Debye, didn't you?
BAKER: Yes. Debye was our patron saint. Before I joined the lab, Smyth had
worked with him. He was the creator of the concept of modern dielectrics, which
Faraday might have done if he had been born at a later time--but it was Debye
who did it. As soon as Debye came to this country, which was before the war, we
02:27:00established a link with him which was very extraordinary for those times. The
Bell Laboratories in those times had a tradition of not having consultants, of
not linking with academic people. This is a curious tradition that we think
started with a man named [Thomas D.] Lockwood, shortly after Dr. Bell's
discovery of the phone and before the formation of the corporation. They had a
terrible fight about whether they should do research and development inside the
telephone business or whether it should all be simply purchased and contracted
for outside in the universities and perhaps in other laboratories. The leaders
of that period succeeded in deciding to set up their own resources, and they
actually drove Lockwood out of the business. I think the polarization that
produced then cut us away. They said, "Well, we're not going to have consultants
02:28:00of any kind because this would be a compromise." And they didn't. There was just
one fellow in metallurgy over that whole early part of the century. By the 1930s
this ferment was going on internationally about the structure of matter, and
when Davisson's and Germer's discovery had revolutionized the university view of
matter as well as the view of the Bell Laboratories, it was fascinating that
there were no academic exchanges. So the acquisition of Debye as a consultant,
the involvement of Debye in our basic studies, was remarkable and exciting. He
took to it. He was very interested in the work that Morgan had done. He wasn't
much interested in polymers at that stage. I think he only had heard of them
through us. He regarded them as rather barbaric. Anything that was much beyond
hydrogen chloride he wouldn't have understood very fully. He regarded them as
too complicated. But Debye changed and became very sympathetic, although he
02:29:00found the intensity of effort and enthusiasm that we had for polymers rather
amusing. Nevertheless, I had enoti ious respect for Morgan's and Yager's work,
and for Yager's wonderful measurement techniques which were applied to a lot of
simpler molecules at that stage, such as the chlorinated hydrocarbons. You
wouldn't have thought, perhaps, Marcy, that the Bell System had a large role in
the evolution of chlorinated aromatics which are now regarded as one of the
great threats to the world, but we didn't get into any volume usage so we are
innocent on that. But we did learn about Halowax. We learned how to use this in
condensers which were far better than just the paper condensers. Now there's
another point, Jeff, about cellulose. We were the world's largest user, but all
the rest of electrotechnology, all the power people, and the telegraph people,
02:30:00and everybody else, depended for their circuits on paper wound with foil into
condensers. Cellulose just happened to have a reasonable set of properties.
Cellulose in the form of paper has been used for a lot of good things, but it
just happened to have the electrical properties that were absolutely essential
for the circuitry of those times. We improved that. Kohman, a contemporary of
Morgan's, was a very good physical chemist. He did a lot of work on the addition
of halogenated and other synthetic aromatics which enhance still more these
remarkable properties of paper, cellulose. So that was a thing that Yager and
Morgan had pursued very accurately and precisely, and Debye was interested in
02:31:00that. When we brought in polymers, this shifted a lot of the activity because
they had properties that were not only competitive for fibers, films, wire
coatings, and cables, but also for condensers as capacitors in circuitry, which
was unique. That's how Debye picked up the whole theme.
STURCHIO: Had you had personal contact with him while you were at Princeton?
BAKER: No, not significantly. I worshiped him from afar.
02:32:00[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.1]
STURCHIO: Could you tell us more about how you got him to come down to the Labs
and how the relationship developed?
BAKER: Well, it was probably Smyth. Smyth knew that he was going to come here.
Debye was director at that point of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, the ranking
02:33:00scientific research center in all of Europe, and accordingly, the Nazis knew who
he was. They said, "We'll make you a permanent and heroic member of this whole
German science enterprise, but you will have to join our cause"--not necessarily
perhaps become a Nazi, but become sympathetic to the Nazi principles. Very high
level people in the Hitler government went after him. At that point he began to
buy his tickets overseas. He was probably in a worse situation than the people
who were driven out. I mean, he was driven in, so to speak. They said, "We want
you and we'll make you a great hero." [Hans] Bethe and some others had already
found that Cornell was a very friendly environ. Do you know about [Karl K.]
Darrow? You must know about Darrow. It takes us to one of the world's most
02:34:00expressive writers of modern physics. He wrote books, and his whole career was at
He introduced the world of learning to
quantum physics. He was an expresser, a transfer agent, unparalleled, and
someday I'll tell you all about Darrow. He was a cosmopolitan physicist who paid
a great deal of attention to Europe. He realized that it was then the source of
the kind of frontier we wanted to go in for. Darrow was a fascinating character.
He regarded New Jersey and Summit where we were doing a lot of this work--and
Murray Hill when it was formed--as in the wilderness, barely past the
occupations of the Indians and the savages and a place that he would visit only
02:35:00with great caution. He regarded New York and Chicago as probably the only
civilized places west of London and Paris. He carried this out in great style
and with great effectiveness. He announced that he would go to Chicago willingly
and talk to Debye or anyone else who happened to be there because he could go by
train and get sleep and have breakfast and all that sort of thing--whereas to
come out to Murray Hill, he had to go by antediluvian roads. He knew all about
Debye and Debye knew all about him. They were very friendly. Debye was much
welcomed by the whole physics and chemistry community in this country, and
Darrow was an important part of that. So we used those mechanisms and then we
set up his link here.
STURCHIO: Did he come down from Cornell once a month?
BAKER: It was very regularly. He liked to come to New York. He had lots of other
02:36:00friends there. It was hard to get down from Cornell. But Debye was accustomed to
the rigors of the climate there because he grew up in Holland. As he often told
me, he had to break the ice in the morning in his basin for washing his face.
STURCHIO: He must have felt right at home in Ithaca.
BAKER: I think it didn't bother him that much. But he did come down very often.
He often came to West Street, and then he did come occasionally to Summit, and
then of course he came to Murray Hill all the time. He came to Murray Hill not
many years before he died. So there was a very long linkage.
STURCHIO: We'll get back to Debye and all the synthetic rubber projects in a few
02:37:00minutes, but I'd just like to round up a couple of loose ends. One was that you
started off working at the Summit Lab, but it was in late 1941 that Murray Hill
opened up. [see next page] When did you begin moving over here? Which of this
work that we just discussed was done at Summit?
BAKER: We were one of the first occupants of Murray Hill and I think came in by
Christmas of 1941. We had to put together some of the walls. We were very proud
of the laboratories being demountable and reassembled, and we did some of it
ourselves. The chemical laboratory was one of the first to be occupied.
STURCHIO: So most of the work with Yager that we've just been discussing was
BAKER: Some of the most definitive parts of the project were done at Summit. I
guess we didn't publish it until 1941.
STURCHIO: That's true, because you began to discuss it at ACS meetings before it
02:38:00BAKER: Yes. We started before that. It was discussed in 1940 and so we had done
it in Summit. I remember the Detroit meeting of the American Chemical Society
was one place where we began to let down our hair on the fact that you could
really treat polymers as manageable, understandable, semicrystalline solids.
STURCHIO: Here is a patent that arose out of this whole program of research on
the surface hardening of linear polyamide bodies.
you were saying before, this is one where from theoretical indications the
structures of these polymers might be very practical. What kind of practical use
did this particular patent and some of your other early patents have?
BAKER: This one was intended for wire and cable sheathing where you had a very
02:39:00heavy abrasion on the surface because of the way things had to be installed and
handled, though it was silly for the U.S. at that point to be wired and cabled
by pulling it through ducts, which is very tough mechanically. So we wanted the
surfaces to be extremely hard and abrasion resistant. On the other hand, these
things were also bent. These polymers had a relatively high modulus which would
tend to be high, except that if you quenched--as we describe in there--and
stabilized the amorphous part, you'd have a very much lower modulus and a very
much higher flexibility. The elongation at break, particularly with the biaxial
stresses that you get from bending this, are perhaps four or five times what you
got from the crystallized part. So we produced in one extrusion, one coating of
the system, a range of mechanics which had only been dreamed of before. This
02:40:00subsequently had many other uses than that one. It has many other applications.
As you know, the whole domain of hardware, of catches, of locks, of bearings for
small machinery, are all made of polyamides now, made of nylon. The whole range
of fabricators--not just DuPont, there are hundreds of them now--uses techniques
like this to make the maximal wear resistance and lubricating properties of the
surface and still maintain this toughness and high elongation of the bulk of the
bearing or the mechanical part.
STURCHIO: When you began to describe this work in a broader arena, such as at
ACS meetings, what kind of reactions did you get from chemists elsewhere?
BAKER: They were startled, because on the one hand there had been very little
02:41:00discussion of these systems by their synthesizer, which was DuPont. The British
were very curious about polyesters, but they had not reported anything either.
The basic science activity in this field was heavily constrained. The perfectly
logical enduring tradition of the originating company was that they patented
their inventions. Those patents were complicated and empirical and they didn't
have a lot of scope, but they were sure enough covering that composition of
matter, and nobody else knew anything about it. They did some studies, and they
02:42:00did some very clever work at DuPont. You're probably getting some of this from
them. Julian Hill, for example. He's very ancient now; he's even more ancient
than I am. He is one of the great amateur ornithologists in the country. He
discovered how you could get nylon fibers. He did the first pulling of fibers.
Carothers didn't know this and didn't do this. Hill and the people he worked
with then were almost in a frenzy, trying to find ways to commercialize this, to
make the stuff come out as a good fiber of nylon. They didn't discuss this with
many university people. They informed Roger Adams and Speed Marvel, who were
interested. Adams had a fellow named [William H.] Lycan as a graduate student
02:43:00who had been examining the hull of the cat briar berry, which was kind of
flexible and rubbery and interesting. The cat briar is the worst. Did you ever
encounter briars? They're green briars, and they reach out and grab you around
here. These things have little berries which birds are interested in. Roger
Adams, who was a big chemist at Illinois, was curious about the hull of these
things. What did Lycan and Adams find?
It was a
polyester, but they didn't know what kind of a polyester. Adams was pretty
interested when Carothers began to synthesize these things. This is a long
answer to your question, but there just was a sort of excitement and surprise in
the chemical community when we began to talk about polyamides and polyesters as
unique structures of matter, having extraordinary physical properties.
STURCHIO: Did you find that most of the interest came from people at DuPont and
02:44:00other industrial companies, or were the academics really beginning to sit up and
BAKER: DuPont was the most interested and startled, because it was their thing.
They had done it, you see. They had synthesized it. The fact that we had all
these properties is what led their chemical director to say to Williams when we
finished at the Detroit meeting, "Well, you know more about it than we do." He
said that about nylon. But other chemists began to get interested, although it
was pretty slow. [Paul J.] Flory was extremely aware of all the possibilities.
He knew what DuPont had done, because he was there at the time. He had published
absolutely superb papers on the kinetics of esterification and the kind of state
02:45:00that you had kinetically in order to get the high molecular weights. He had not
followed the physical properties and the structural aspects at that point.
STURCHIO: We'll get back to Flory as well, because he was involved in the
synthetic rubber projects also. Around the same time that the labs moved to
Murray Hill, you also had an interesting event in your life. You got married in
November of 1941. Could you tell us about your wife?
BAKER: She is a lovely person, just as she was then. She is sympathetic to
science, to research and to the eternal demands of trying to make science and
industry and technology and communications all go together.
02:46:00STURCHIO: We know something of the background of the national synthetic rubber
project. By the end of 1942, Bell Labs was spending more and more time thinking
about some of these problems. How did you get involved in this project?
BAKER: The background was from the same issue that we described earlier, that we
were a major user, probably again the major user, of partially chemically
controlled rubber, primarily for cable sheathing, but also all sorts of wire
02:47:00covering. This had gone on for some years, based primarily on natural rubber.
The invention of continuous vulcanization had come from the lab and was
dominating the field. It had been licensed to other people. It was a high speed
vulcanization. For tires they didn't care, because they had to mold the tire and
had time to let it be vulcanized. This is what makes rubber tough, when you use
sulfur and so on. Our people discovered a method of vulcanizing during
extrusion, which meant you had seconds or perhaps even tenths of seconds or
hundredths of seconds in order to carry out the whole reaction and get it done.
This was quite revolutionary and it attracted a lot of attention. In order to
keep up with that, and in the tradition of the Bell Laboratories that we
mentioned earlier, there were a number of our staff who are shown on your chart
02:48:00who participated in the rubber technology and chemistry community. They belonged
to the rubber chemistry section of the ACS, which as you know is a rather
special one. They formed a community that was rather autonomous compared to the
ACS. Williams was the chemical director and had himself been interested in the
purification of a form of rubber, gutta percha, which was semicrystalline.
Following the techniques of Davisson and Germer, they had shown the molecular
configuration of this stuff. Some of the Europeans had shown that it was a trans
chain. Here was an early example of what we carried forward in the synthetic
polyester and polyamide case of people understanding the detailed molecular
configuration of the things we used as insulators and structural materials in
telephony. Williams was a very scientifically-minded person. A personal interest
02:49:00which was supported and welcomed by the Bell Laboratories but not involved in
the commercial mission of Bell Laboratories was his identification of vitamin B1
and his eventual synthesis of it. He was known for his scientific skills, and
this was the early part of the era of organic physics and organic
When the Baruch report came out, [William]
Jeffers, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, was brought in to form a
Rubber Reserve to contain and conserve what rubber we had and to make synthetic
rubber as well.
When those fellows got together, they
saw that our scientific and technical base was really pretty feeble. At that
time the national strategy had decreed, however, that we would nationalize the
02:50:00industry--the war was getting tougher and tougher--and we would make use of all
the patents they had of German work which was supposed to have been successful.
The Germans were supposed to have had synthetic rubber, which was a frightening
hypothesis if true because we didn't. The Japanese and Germans had cut off the
Far East and the war would hang in balance. You couldn't have mechanized
warfare. You couldn't have aircraft. You couldn't have a lot of those things
without rubber, and our domestic economy would have collapsed as well. So it was
very wisely decided, and Vannevar Bush already had a considerable hand in this,
and it was discussed with the president that there would be a science and
technology program, an R&D program for rubber. But they didn't turn to the
02:51:00rubber industry, which was the logical thing to do, or to the chemical industry,
or the Standard Oil Company--that is, Standard Oil of New Jersey. ESSO had many
of the German patents. In addition to that, they had some very good work by
[Robert M.] Thomas and [William J.] Sparks, two of their people, in the
modification of the German patents on polyisobutylene to make butyl rubber out
Instead of turning to any of those people,
they turned to a place that Bush and the president and Jeffers and others
thought had a stronger scientific background but had the sense of use, the sense
of practicality--which was the Bell Laboratories. [Oliver E.] Buckley was the
one who made the final decision to do it, and he selected Williams to become the
principal scientific advisor to the Rubber Reserve Corporation and to Jeffers,
02:52:00who was really the rubber czar. So off he went on that. Fuller was quickly
recruited by Williams to help with the organization nationally. I was assigned
to do much of the basic scientific planning, but also the work that we thought
would apply to the early control of the synthetic rubber which was going to be
made, which was patterned after the German butadiene styrene. In the Mayflower
Hotel--I think now vanished--in Akron in December of 1942, we sat around the
table in a room a little smaller than this and nationalized the rubber industry.
I guess it was the first American industry to be nationalized. The major
02:53:00components were U.S. Rubber, Goodrich, Goodyear, Firestone--all concentrated in
Akron--and there was Standard Oil of New Jersey. There were a few accessory
outfits which did very well. Some of them made vulcanization ingredients, some
of them did other things. From that point on, Williams and Fuller, who were
invaluable elements, recruited what seemed to be the major industrial centers
and the major university centers. The idea of university centers was
revolutionary in Washington. They didn't think they could contribute anything
and we said, "Well, that's wrong." There were only a few, because the subject of
polymers was a matter of active disinterest at that stage. [laughter] But there
02:54:00was Marvel and some of his colleagues. Roger Adams was then very heavily engaged
in Pentagon work and didn't get into this so much, but Marvel did become a very
fundamental element in it. Then we said, "There are going to be people who can
be brought into this who have never heard of polymers, but they are so important
in chemical controls and in analysis." We had built a strong center under
Beverly Clarke here in the Bell Laboratories, which was really quite
distinguished in the whole field of analytical chemistry. We said, "That's got
to be put in." They said, "Well, that's foolish. It will take twenty years for
those people to provide anything." "Well," we said, "that isn't so." We
recruited Piet [Izaak M.] Kolthoff, who became an absolutely invaluable element
and produced thousands of carefully controlled specimens which were quite
02:55:00outside what the American industry had been able to do. We then got Debye, who
was deeply devoted to the cause but in his alien status was regarded as so
hazardous that he had to be accompanied by a policeman and/or a military
delegate at all the meetings in Akron. We had a lot of meetings in Akron in
which we nationalized the industry and Debye couldn't even go into the meetings
without this fellow sitting there. What they assumed, I guess, was that Debye
was going to blow up the whole city or blow up the plant. They had no idea what
it was that Debye was talking about, but he took this all in good humor. I had a
sort of special liaison with Debye. In New York, at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel,
you would not allow any of these policeman around, but he was not allowed to
come into Bell Laboratories. You may have duplicates of the original notes that
02:56:00he made at that point which we reported at the Welch Foundation's symposium on
the bicentennial of American chemistry.
proceeded to invent and create the whole era of light scattering for
macromolecular solutions which now dominates much of the bioscience in the field
as well as being invaluable to our work in those synthetic rubber
It came from Einstein's original concept of
scattering of light in liquids due to the fluctuations in the density of the
liquid, and then due to solids that you could put into the liquid. Debye
remembered that work which was way back in the 1920s and even before, and
remembered that Einstein had proposed a perfectly wonderful correspondence
between osmotic pressure, which would always distribute the solid uniformly
02:57:00through the solution, and thermal fluctuations, which would make it nonuniform.
There had to be a balance there. This was really one of the elegant theoretical
developments of the century. Debye did this in the many meetings we had in the
Barbizon Plaza Hotel. Some of it was on the back of envelopes. Experiments were
begun partly at Cornell with [Arthur] Bueche. Bueche was the fellow who later
became head of the General Electric Research Laboratory. In other programs, MIT
was involved, and a couple of people from Harvard had parts in it. [Arthur]
Tobolsky and his associates from Princeton did elegant work. I can develop this
as much as you want, but I don't want to bore you to death. This is the way the
02:58:00synthetic rubber game got started.
STURCHIO: That's a very helpful introduction. You said that there was a meeting
in the Mayflower Hotel in Akron in December of 1942. Here we have what I think
is just a fascinating document that you wrote December 7, the anniversary of
Pearl Harbor, on the scientific problems that synthetic rubber posed from a
physical organic standpoint/
What is the background
of that memo? Was this in preparation for that meeting?
BAKER: Yes. We were seeing that the whole state of the war was beginning to hang
on synthetic rubber supplies. They just simply determined whether we had
armament or whether we didn't. We thought that the studies we had begun on the
solid state and properties of polymers relating their chemical compositions and
02:59:00structures to their mechanics, this philosophy or strategy could be applied to
synthetic rubber. This was the issue in the wartime usage, because these tires
and other things had to have special hysteresis qualities and other properties.
We were also very much concerned about the compositional control because that
compositional control would be fundamental in how the aromatic links where
distributed in an essentially olefinic and aliphatic environment. We knew that
this would make quite a difference. The polarizability of the benzene residues
was really quite vital. Let me put in a footnote. We didn't know then, but the
03:00:00Soviet-German campaign was essentially decided, the historians say, by the fact
that the armored columns from Germany were unable to move and to perform because
the tank treads became brittle in the western winter. They struck almost to
Moscow, but the Soviets defenders were able to stop those armored penetrations
because the armor essentially failed. It could not move effectively. This
brittlement disabled the tanks.
03:01:00[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.2]
BAKER: The reason was that the Germans apparently had not controlled the
distribution of styrene. They got clusters of something like block polymers,
only they didn't know it. These things embrittled very rapidly. We did know that
03:02:00we had to prevent that kind of malperformance, so we emphasized the importance
of homogeneity or of control of some kind of those clusters. Now the
crosslinkage part became central in the formation of microgel and the
determination of the whole microgel era. E. R. Gilliland, who after the war
really made MIT pre-eminent in chemical engineering, sent us a letter saying
that the microgel formation was the most crucial element in the whole synthetic
rubber program. What we're getting to is that this was an early speculation,
03:03:00sort of a probe, of how in the world we could carry on the synthesis of high
molecular weight polymers in the presence of all those residual double bonds,
and butadiene just left an enormous concentration of double bonds. Nature does
this. Nature's rubber is full of those, but they are very sensitive. That's an
interesting story, too, because the rubber in trees is not unrelated to the
synthetic processes for hormones which are the regulatory elements you see in
life and in nature. Nature has an elegant way of balancing these things out and
keeping those double bonds in rubber. We didn't know about that. I think the
discussions here were based on the rather simple-minded--at least I was
simple-minded--notion of how can you contain that chemistry.
STURCHIO: One can certainly see how you were applying the strategy you developed
03:04:00in the earlier work on the crystalline cellulose esters and the polyesters and
polyamides to the problems of synthetic rubber. You mentioned that Debye was
comfortable with molecules the size of hydrogen chloride. Some of the other
polymer chemists at the time, such as Carothers, were comfortable with thinking
of the large whole molecule. What strikes me is the attention you paid to
microenvironments within the reaction. That comes through very clearly in that memo.
BAKER: Your insight is very interesting and pertinent to this. To come back to
this whole theme at the Bell System, the Bell Laboratories were always looking
03:05:00for some uses and some applications. We had built a lot of our switching systems
on maple blocks. I don't expect you're a connoisseur of beautiful birds-eye
maple, but there was some beautiful birds-eye maple, hundreds of tons of which
were necessary for the terminals that the wires were connected by. The whole
Bell System depended on this in those days. We knew that we had to get something
better than maple blocks. We wanted to get something that we could thermoset.
We'd experimented with Bakelite for years, but its electrical and mechanical
properties were inadequate. People looked at other thermosetting materials of
that time, but they were all inadequate. What interested us was that some of
these polyesters looked very appropriate and their dielectric properties were
very good, but they had to be thermoset, because otherwise the conditions of
soldering around them would melt them. You could burn a little maple, but
03:06:00nevertheless it sat there and didn't disappear. To make a long story short, we
discovered a way to crosslink these things by operating on the alpha-hydrogen
instead of by putting double bonds in. There was a fellow named [Carleton] Ellis
outside of Newark who knew how to put highly unsaturated systems, maleic and
fumaric acid residues, in and make thermoset esters, but that was bad because
everything reacted and you got much too much rigidity. You didn't preserve the
values of Carothers' polymers. What we found was that you could crosslink these
03:07:00things with peroxides by operating on the alpha-methylene groups which were
chemically much more reactive than anybody thought that the CH2 group would be.
So we had been working on that and that led to a feeling that we should be able
to control crosslinkages in other systems such as synthetic rubbers in much more
specific ways than people had done before. This is just an elaboration of what
you've already deduced.
STURCHIO: Did this memo then direct the immediate work that you did at Bell Labs
in 1943, or was that more constrained by the whole process of the rubber
BAKER: The rubber program applied some constraints all right. This linearity
03:08:00part we did follow up and that did lead to the microgel discovery and
I see notes in here about the uniformity
of the chains, and that we did follow up as well. We did discover this optical
method of analysis which then was taken over by the National Bureau of
Standards. They were brought in by Williams. They had a fellow named L. A. Wood,
who was a very good natural rubber chemist and physicist, a combination
physicist/chemist. He is still alive and would be a very good reference. We used
an interferometer. [see next page] That comes right back to your very first
question of what kind of support we got in the Bell Laboratories. We got support
for getting one of the two or three interferometers in the world. It had been
03:09:00made by Zeiss, which was then held by the Nazis, by the enemy. It was here.
Heiss and I lurched into this thing. We had used it for other things and found
that we could measure the refractive index of solutions. These had to be quite
dilute solutions to get the sensitivity for styrene-butadiene polymers. We could
determine the styrene-butadiene content which nobody had been able to put his
fingers on before. This became the dominant system, and the Bureau people
finally developed some adequate methods of using refractometers with rubber
films instead of solutions. It became the control method. We did carry on a good
bit of this. Here's the interferometer/refi-actometer measurement idea. That
03:10:00became central. The ultrasonic method didn't get used until later years when it
became very crucial. I haven't looked at this for forty-three years, but I think
we did follow up much of the outline there.
STURCHIO: I would like to know a bit more about how the rubber project affected
the internal organization of research at Bell Labs. Williams was in Washington
most of the time, although he wouldn't have been directly in contact with you.
Did Fuller go to Washington as well?
BAKER: A great deal, and mostly by the night train. He became acquainted with
the New York-Washington line more intimately than anyone ever imagined or
03:11:00thought of. This happened every few days.
STURCHIO: Did you go to Washington as well?
BAKER: I didn't do it as much as he did because I was working here a great deal
of the time. I did go to Akron a great deal, which was slightly worse. It's
astonishing what your recollections of those agonies endow you with. The
spoonerism is that you went from Cambridge to London by the town drain. Well, I
think we used approximately that method in going by the down train from New York
STURCHIO: How long did that trip take? You must have spent a lot of your time
going from New York to Akron.
BAKER: Overnight. You didn't sleep, that was all. You just worked in Akron the
next day. You worked here and then went to Akron. It was pretty much the same
thing with Washington.
STURCHIO: With Fuller in Washington a good bit of the time, with you in
03:12:00effective control of all of Bell Labs' scientific research on the rubber
project, how did your interactions with other people on the staff begin to change?
BAKER: I was not responsible for the synthetic work here, which was done by B.
S. Biggs, who did that extremely well.
STURCHIO: You mentioned earlier that the labs had people working on natural
rubber, people like Kemp and [H. H.] Lowry. Did they get involved in the
synthetic rubber work?
BAKER: Kemp did in his very curious way. He was certainly a character. He had
kind of localized his interests and had very strong convictions about what
rubber should and shouldn't do. The synthetic polymer era was not something that
Kemp took lightly. He didn't believe in a lot of it, but he did carry on some of
the vulcanization studies and things of that sort. Lowry was an interesting
03:13:00person. After his career here he became head of the [Bureau of] Mines laboratory
in Pittsburgh and did much of the American work on coal chemistry. He really
carried that on right up to about fifteen or twenty years ago. But our work here
was very coherent, very cooperative. Biggs' work on the synthesis was intimately
connected with our work on structure and properties, so it went very well. We
did expand into interactions with the other parts of the national program. We
had lots of lively sessions there because the traditional rubber people, and
there were dozens and dozens of them, were not acquainted with the kind of
research that we were introducing. They had one physicist in the whole rubber
03:14:00industry, Sam [Samuel D.] Gehman from Firestone, who was very sound. He measured
hysteresis; he measured physics and mechanics. He was the only physicist in the
rubber industry, so the notion of learning structures and properties was not
STURCHIO: There must have been a good deal of resistance on the part of
traditional rubber manufacturers.
BAKER: There was, in various forms. Some of it was good-natured. Some of it was
quite passionate, saying, "Why are these people from Bell Labs getting in our
way?" But the rubber crisis was sufficiently keen so that we managed to carry
on. There were fascinating characters. There was a fellow named Charlie [Charles
F.] Fryling from Goodrich who started out very skeptical, but he eventually
joined very strongly and did good work. There were some interesting interactions
03:15:00with U.S. Rubber, which had a very big factory then. It's almost vanished now,
and it's called Uniroyal. They had a big laboratory nearby in Passaic. Some of
their people did some very interesting work. Some of their people had been
looking for this kind of approach and hadn't gotten much support. But there were
two or three of them, such as [Roswell] Ewart. I think he must have died. He was
quite dubious at the beginning, but did some very good kinetic work on copolymerizations.
STURCHIO: Wasn't Frank Mayo at U.S. Rubber then?
03:16:00BAKER: Frank was a disciple of Morris Kharasch, who really had the original idea
about free radicals, nonpolitical. [laughter] They were very exciting and very
unexpected. Nobody believed in them. They were a sort of insult, because
chemistry was thought to be a covalent system, a closed electronic system. Mayo
was opposed to all that. He was a very lively, skeptical fellow. At U.S. Rubber
there were only two or three people who wanted to reach outside the traditional
03:17:00rubber business, and Mayo was recruited. They thought it probably didn't have
anything to do with the rubber business. They thought that was just what they
needed. He carried on some interesting kinetics with Cheves Walling, who later
became the editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. I think he
probably finished his term only a couple of years ago. He's a professor at Utah.
At that stage U.S. Rubber was really creative.
STURCHIO: Their work on the kinetics of copolymerization must have complemented
the work that was going on here on understanding the structure of the copolymers.
BAKER: Yes, very much so. Especially the analytic work, because they used some
of our techniques. They didn't know what they were getting really, but they knew
what the kinetics should have given. They were dubious about microgel at first,
but then they decided that was in very pertinent form. They actually did some of
the early technical application of it, in extrusion.
03:18:00STURCHIO: Let me ask you more about the meetings in Akron and relations among
academic and industrial scientists. You spoke about Debye and mentioned that
Kolthoff was involved. Marvel was in charge of a large group at Illinois. What
were these meetings like? They must have been intense.
BAKER: Yes, they were. I think they were probably a unique period of science in
America. They were highly concentrated on the project of producing seven hundred
thousand tons of synthetic materials. We realized the enormous responsibility
for the quality of that, and for getting it properly applied. At the same time
03:19:00the academic constituents, and I think they were selected by Williams and
Jeffers partly on this basis, retained all their revolutionary character. We had
the whole nation mobilized for war. There was lots of discipline. There was a
lot of feeling that people had to do things in very formalized and compartmented
ways. But these people weren't convinced of that. They were very loyal, but they
had their own convictions and they were going to do things their way some of the
time. The question of radical reactions was a question of what promoters did.
You had to have a chain terminator, otherwise you'd get nothing but microgel.
The Germans found that out, although they didn't know why. These were sulfur
compounds largely. There were passionate feelings about how they worked and how
they didn't work. A professor from MIT would accuse a professor from Minnesota
of malfeasance or ignorance or something worse, but it was all in a reasonable
03:20:00spirit. Well, that's a long answer to your question. They were very lively indeed.
STURCHIO: The people at these meetings became the leaders of postwar polymer
science. I'm sure that in addition to the manifest function of dealing with the
problem at hand and making sure that synthetic rubber was produced effectively
and in the quantities needed, there must have been latent functions at these
meetings as well, namely the forging of friendships, of collegial relations.
Could you talk about that aspect of it?
BAKER: It did initiate a big community of macromolecular science. There were
Flory and Debye and Kolthoff and Marvel, and Herb [Herbert El Carter who did so
03:21:00much in peptides and natural hormones. There were a couple of people from MIT,
and Tobolsky and a big group at Princeton. They all got together. They, as much
as anything, did the actually crucial creating of the concept that polymers were
science, that macromolecules really were worthy of scientific investigation and
understanding, which may have been both economically and operationally one of
the most important by-products of the war, just as the behavior of other solids
was to us. But up to that time the European traditions, which were compelling
and the largest in the field, had regarded these things as some part of colloid
03:22:00chemistry which were aggregates of molecules which we might or might not
understand, and most of them would not have anything to do with it; so that
by-product was absolutely vital. Meyer and Mark were lurking in the background,
having at one stage said that the polymers were molecules and at the other stage
said they were units of colloids. Herman Mark has gone a long way from that now
and remembers very accurately his instinct that these were molecules and that
they ought to be treated that way, but at the time he and Meyer, who wrote the
definitive book on the subject, were undecided, and it just didn't look like a
good subject to study.
STURCHIO: One can see the way in which the field began to come together as a
science, partly or largely because of these meetings. Here's one of the later
03:23:00discussions from April 1945 on molecular weight distributions in polymer
structures. [see next page] Both the people giving the talks and the talks
themselves demonstrate that the work over the preceding couple of years had
really led to a solid systematic knowledge.
BAKER: You're absolutely right, and this thing gave a real launching to a major
part of American chemistry and science and economy, because it convinced these
people that polymers were stable and that you could do it. This came along with
the Carothers' materials growing very fast in this time too, although DuPont was
not very intimately involved in this. A lot of the academic work came along
independently of them.
03:24:00STURCHIO: Of course, DuPont had gotten involved in the Hanford Works and
plutonium production. David Hounshell and John Smith, who are writing a history
of DuPont's R&D, have said that the people at DuPont were keenly aware of how
they'd lost the jump in polymer research because they didn't get involved.
BAKER: Oh, you're absolutely right. It will be very useful to have that all
brought out and documented. GOLDSTEIN: Dr. Baker, were the top management at
AT&T aware of the significance of what was being worked on here, and were they
supportive? I know that during the war there were so many things they were
tending to; did they know this work?
BAKER: Yes. That's a very intriguing point. It was a combination of knowing
03:25:00something and being sympathetic and tolerant of the rest. It wasn't that they
really understood the whole deal. [Frank B.] Jewett was heavily involved in the
whole war strategy and was president of the National Academy of Sciences during
this period, so he had his arms around the whole community which was involved.
Buckley on the other hand was very tentative about the synthetic rubber program
participation, but it worked out. I think he was only very generally aware and
sort of generally tolerant of its meaning for the future and for how solid state
work would come along. [Walter E.] Gifford made no pretense of having any
interest in it, unlike Charlie [Charles R.] Brown or [H. I.] Romnes, who came
03:26:00from the Laboratories, or other chairmen. This wasn't done to discourage; he
just felt it wasn't his cup of tea. Gifford simply went charging ahead expanding
the Bell System and leading it, knowing that telecommunications would have come
along--but he didn't get involved himself. There were some people in between who
did various kinds of translating, as in between Jewett, who did report to
Gifford for a while I think, and [O. B.] Blackwell was a fellow who helped
translate the Laboratories work. It is a very interesting question, because
there was very little industry of that period that had very much feeling for the
future of R&D. DuPont did in one way or another, because of Carothers. At
03:27:00Monsanto, Edgar Monsanto Queeny was the head man there, and he drew in a couple
of pretty good chemists [Carroll Hochwalt and Charles A. Thomas], one of whom
later became chairman of the company [Thomas].
they never felt that they should do research. U.S. Steel and the whole metals
industry was way down the line, so there were differences.
STURCHIO: If we can go back to the Rubber Research Discussion Group for a
minute, you were talking about latent and manifest functions of those meetings.
Another thing about the social dynamics of an organization like that is that
certain people play more dominant roles than others. Which people were the most
03:28:00BAKER: There were some fascinating personalities there. I haven't thought about
them for forty years. There was a big chap at Goodrich who did work on vinyls.
He was very strong and a rather provincial proponent of the secrets of Goodrich,
and the fact that Goodrich really knew how to do things. [Raymond F.] Dunbrook
and a fellow whom I haven't thought of for years from Firestone were much more
open. That was interesting. They had a more humble view and took pains to report
very fully what they knew about it. The man from U.S. Rubber was [Willis A.]
Gibbons, who was a real statesman of industrial research and development. He was
03:29:00the head man and the one who pushed for Mayo and recognized the need for these
people. He was very quiet but quite incisive. He went off later to Washington
and became prominent in other forms of government, national security affairs. A
man from Goodyear was [H. Judson] Osterhof. He was a very plainspoken,
expressive and rather smart fellow. His associate was Al [Alvin M.] Borders, who
became director of research for 3M in recent years. They did excellent work.
Flory was with Goodyear for a while at that point. They built up a lot of
respect for science and did expand their laboratories and had some very
03:30:00first-rate people there. [William J.] Sparks was from the Standard Oil
Laboratories and became president of the American Chemical Society. They were
very expressive and emphatic members of these groups.
STURCHIO: [tape interruption] Is that the way the meetings tended to be run?
BAKER: Pretty much. You see, we were in a great hurry and we had to use every
resort possible to call on all the background as well as all the foreground of
knowledge of synthetic rubber. So these were little communities. They'd never
talked to each other before. It was like being a traitor if you talked to
someone. Right there in Akron, if Goodyear talked to Goodrich, that was the end
of it. We had to overcome that by nationalizing, by creating community feelings
03:31:00and patriotic feelings and the rest. In those terms the groups still maintained
their identity and they acted as groups all right. The Bureau of Standards was
slightly insulted at having to do its elegant measurement work in the presence
of all these industrial sloppy Joes. [laughter] The university people more or
less identified with their places, but they were more cosmopolitan.
STURCHIO: That's intriguing, because that personal side doesn't come through in
STURCHIO: Let me ask you a slightly different question, but it's allied to that.
You were still in your late twenties at the time. It must have been a fairly
heady experience for somebody who had a few years experience in research but
still was at the beginning of a career.
03:32:00STURCHIO: Who impressed you the most from that vantage point?
BAKER: Debye was very high, and Flory immediately became very high. I'd known
Flory slightly beforehand because he was interested in some of our work on
polyesters. He became very prominent in the work of the program. I found Gibbons
a bit of a statesman. Gilliland, from MIT, was more interested in the raw
materials, but we had to have somebody who did that, and he was one of the best
chemical engineers in the country. He was very exciting.
03:33:00[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.3]
BAKER: He took a leadership role as Williams sort of phased out of the thing.
Sparks was always an interesting creative person, as was Thomas, his associate.
Duer Reeves was the research director for ESSO at that time. Duer is still
alive. I think he lives in Westfield, and he's in his eighties. [He died in
1994.] He was impressive, not in a scientific way--that was the last thing he
would claim to be--but in a kind of managerial form. I was struck by Kolthoff
and had a very warm and lifelong friendship with him. I was of course enormously
struck by Speed Marvel and maintained that connection.
03:34:00[Untranscribed material, 3:33:56 – 3:34:13]
STURCHIO: It's useful to have your impression of what they were like at the time
and the role that these leaders played in the synthetic rubber project. Why
don't we get back to Bell Labs' particular work. What was the genesis of the
important work on microgel?
BAKER: That first impact was in the synthetic rubber program; it was this very
simple notion that because of the olefinic bonds in butadiene polymers, you
should be generating cross bonds at a very early stage of the kinetics of
03:35:00polymerization. On the other hand, the world of polymers was attuned to the
notion that if you had a three-dimensional chemistry, you'd have Bakelite or
vulcanized rubber or something, and you couldn't handle other molecules. We said
that wasn't so. When you do the work in the physical confinement of a micelle, a
little particle in the emulsion, that is where colloid chemistry really did have
a role in modern science. These globular molecules are a result of that. It
turned out that control of them was absolutely vital, the most vital thing in
the tenacity and chemical performance of the synthetic rubber. It also turned
out that the formation of products by extrusion--which in our case were wire
03:36:00insulation, cables and so on and also the molding of tires was enormously
controlled by the amount of microgel, because the microgel globular molecules
were not subject to much deformation by shear processes, while the chain
molecules were. So you could balance. You could have deformation which was not
left in the solid, depending on how much microgel you had there. There wasn't
any way the deformation would likely be left there and then distort later on, or
swell, as they called it in the rubber industry. This was extremely crucial. So
there was an application there that has been carried out by the chemical
modification of natural rubber latex. The amount of extrudability is controlled.
03:37:00The British rubber industry picked this up many years after our original work,
but very effectively. Getting back to Bell Laboratories, that was a rather
modest, small portion of our postwar aspirations for the Bell System and for the
Bell Laboratories technology. We wanted to create a polymer era in which all the
kinds of things we had learned in the war in the synthetic rubber case [see next
page], and also before the war, were embodied in new structures for
telecommunications. These spread out in a lot of ways. We were miniaturizing,
and we were getting into microwaves. We had to have dielectrics for microwaves,
which were far more crucial than we'd ever had before. We were generating the
03:38:00first microwave networks by the work at Holmdel which was before there was any
microwave development. [G. N.] Thayer was part of the research department there.
I was not part of the actual radio research at that point, but I was closely
associated with the work of [Harald T.] Friis and Thayer, among others, on the
substances that were needed to handle microwaves. This is really where the
mid-century era of world communications began, in microwave networks. Seventy
percent of our domestic linkages are contained in that network now. They
required polymers in completely new forms, partly for the antennas, partly for
the wave guides they had to feed them, partly for the very delicate circuitry
03:39:00that sending and receiving of microwaves require. So we began to concentrate on
polymers that showed these controllable and in a way predictable properties for
microwaves. Many of them were derivatives of polyethylenes. We had to make a
structure so that it would last forty years exposed to the weather, which was
considered to be an absurdity. Polyethylene had distinguished itself in the war
with radar feed units that followed wave guide principles. It would crack after
six months, fall off after a year of exposure to sunlight. So we had to correct
03:40:00that. Walter Clarke did some very early large scale stabilizer work. A few years
later [W. Lincoln] Hawkins came in and did much more interesting work on that.
He is the fellow who was running for the president of the American Chemical
Society and is memorialized in plastics education fellowships. He began to look
at the properties of hydrocarbon polymers in terms of the total reactive system,
the photogenerated system, the radicals that would generate, the effects on
stability, the physical properties which those effects might alter. We began to
get pretty brave in saying that lead, which had dominated the cable sheathing of
the world--not only for telephones, but for electrical systems as well--could be
03:41:00replaced. People thought that was pretty crazy because we had to distribute this
microwave communication; this enormous increase in volume had to be distributed
in cables, through switching centers. That's where the era of carrier
frequencies and coaxial structures came in, and that created a whole period of
polyethylene sheathing and eventually polyethylene containers in the packaging
industry. Those were the directions we moved in. We discovered shortly in that
period the vulnerability of microcrystalline polymers like polyethylene and
polypropylene to biaxial stressing, and we shifted the synthetic practices of
Carbide and ICI and DuPont and eventually others toward molecular weight
03:42:00distribution which would sustain the biaxial stressing under very severe
conditions of exposure as well.
I guess you could say
that this was a period in which polymers, but particularly polyolefins, were
demonstrated to substitute for metals and for textiles as structural elements in
industry. The structural element part started in our industry, but it spread to others.
STURCHIO: How quickly do you think that would have happened in the Bell System
if it hadn't been for your involvement in the synthetic rubber project in World
03:43:00[Untranscribed material, 3:42:52 – 3:43:30]
How important was that to Bell's efforts in this area?
BAKER: I think it was very important, but probably not crucial--not crucial
simply because we'd already had this opportunity before the war to get going
because of Carothers' polymers and polyethylenes. We would have followed that up
in some way. Now, we might not have been nearly as lucky in how we could
stabilize them if we hadn't had the synthetic rubber program. The rubber program
03:44:00did have an almost crucial effect on our radical reaction attitudes and how the
polymerization could be subsequently related to stabilization and how
stabilizers could be added. I think it was very important there. We did other
things during the war besides synthetic rubber, mindful of the role that
polymers could play in the whole armament field. One of the important ones was
the first antennas for radar, the polyrod antennas. Heiss and I found some basic
03:45:00mechanisms for crazing and how to control it in the wartime period. That had a
strong effect on our postwar uses. Not as rubbers, but as polymers that became
absolutely basic to microwave structures, to central office equipment, and a lot
of other basic qualities of communication. So I'd say we had a strong influence
from the war program broadly, but it wasn't the synthetic rubber program in that case.
STURCHIO: As I recall from looking at the case file for that particular project,
your role was to suggest specifications for the polystyrene that went into those products.
BAKER: That was part of it, but the process of stabilizing those was more
03:46:00important--the thermal treatment which was required and the processing methods,
the molding of the polyrods which also applied to methacrylates in the proximity
fuse. That was a sort of generalized technique, and while as you say it did
depend heavily on control of composition, it also depended on the chemical and
STURCHIO: Since we're going to the postwar period, I was interested in two memos
from late 1945 in which you talked about the plans for the postwar years. In
September you were talking about the utility of maintaining connection with the
03:47:00Rubber Research Group and just generally the importance of those contacts for
the Bell Labs polymer project afterwards.
other memo from October 1945 you talked about organic corrosion in polymers as
being one of the key areas, with internal stress another and improved molecular
structures as a third.
How did things look in late
1945 for the next couple of years?
BAKER: You're identifying the vital times there, in that the experience with
synthetic rubber on one hand--which was above the glass transition state of
03:48:00matter--and the rigid materials of antennas and proximity fuses on the other
hand--below that transition--had convinced us that we should be able to unify
the science and engineering of polymer solids: that we should be able
to--particularly in terms of copolymers and block polymers and such things which
had barely been talked about then--find out where we were in the state of
matter. That is, whether it was above or below the glass transition, what kinds
of transition effects were inherent in the system, and what kinds of internal
stressing you get as a result of processing. This sort of concern has been
followed up for forty years since, and they are still very much in the midst of
determining what these internal energy configurations mean, how much strength
03:49:00you lose, how much thermal stability you lose, how much shape stability is
affected. I think it's fair to say that what we were driven to discuss in that
memorandum has been a strategic base for a lot of polymer science and technology.
STURCHIO: Another interesting thing about that memo is that you raised the
question of whether Bell Labs should be looking at silicones and some of the new
fluoropolymers as well.
BAKER: We did pursue that, but not as intensely as we should have. That was the
first time that those fluoropolymers were intensively applied. There's a point
here that makes your mission so valuable. The science and technology of the
03:50:00twentieth century has gone so fast and the war has been so concentrated and so
intensified that people have not yet understood how seriously you should take
foresight, foreplanning, looking ahead, looking way ahead, and how long it takes
many of these ideas to get applied. Some of the things we said in these
memoranda about fluoropolymers, which I'd forgotten until you dug them out, were
absolutely basic to what we did a few years ago in finally surpassing Edison's
carbon microphone. It took us forty years. But the electrets which [James] West
has been a particular exponent of here--he's still alive and in the midst of
it--we brought along in the late 1970s, so that they are the basis for all
03:51:00acoustics telephony. That particular thing made electronic telephones possible
because the carbon microphone required much power, which you don't have and
don't need in a telephone nowadays, and so you have, at last, electronic
telephones. The fundamentals of that came right out of the properties of
fluoropolymers which [Roy] Plunkett had run into in his synthetic work. We
recognized, partly from the Debye years and later years, that the electrical
properties of these perfluoro materials were such that you could trap charges in
them, and that they did have electronic and electrical properties which were
quite different than anything else we'd seen. So it comes right up to 1985.
STURCHIO: I noticed from the organization chart [see next page] that just after
the war the Chemical Laboratories were beginning to reorganize and you were in
03:52:00charge now of the group that was called polymer research. That was the first
time that showed up. By early 1950 the group was not reporting to Fuller as part
of the plastics group, but was now a separate group in high polymer research and
development. Could you describe how those organizational changes came about?
BAKER: Yes. Those were quite striking and important to us, because they
signified the recognition that Fuller's excellent work of almost a decade before
had been applied and was regarded as so intrinsic to the next phase of the Bell
System, to the next phase of Bell Laboratories R&D, that we'd better strengthen
03:53:00the scientific base. I recognized that our scientific efforts which had been
encouraged in 1939 and after were being accepted. They were being accepted as
"science," which we weren't sure polymers were suitable for when this all got
started. Of these particular people, [Field H.] Winslow is still with us, but I
think he is about to retire. [J. F.] Ambrose has gone elsewhere. [I. L.] Hopkins
was very bright in mechanics. He was an analytically and mathematically inclined
fellow who did the work with me on the multiaxial stressing of polymers. John
Howard, who was tragically run over by a streetcar in Vienna a few years ago,
did very important work on stabilization, on the radical termination and
03:54:00chemical control of polymers whose oxidative and photostability had earlier been
very doubtable. These are the people, and of course Heiss and Pape were there,
and Walt Matreyek. It rather makes your point that polymer science was getting
identified. It had been earlier part of plastics and rubber technology. It
turned out to be useful for plastics and rubber technology, but it wasn't
regarded as a thing in itself.
STURCHIO: So this was a recognition that the scientific basis of polymers, as
opposed to the properties of a particular class of plastics for uses in cable
03:55:00sheaths, was something that the Labs had to begin to devote more concerted
BAKER: Yes. That's exactly right. We noted here that hydrocarbons broadly will
be the basic issue, looking toward polypropylene and other things of that kind,
added to polyethylene. All I'm saying is that your summary is accurate, but it's
also supported by basic chemical strategy which used different starting
materials than people had used before.
STURCHIO: Whose idea was this? Was this something that you pushed for up the ladder?
BAKER: No. I was certainly happy working where I was and was very fond of Fuller
03:56:00and his people, and we had all sorts of collaborative work. I didn't push for it
at all. I think it was largely Burns who was very wise in seeing ways to expand
the work of the Chemical Laboratories and relate to other laboratories and
Centers in Bell Labs. Burns was a very farsighted person and vigorous,
innovative. You know his work on corrosion and metals was expressed in an ACS
He just saw that polymer science was
STURCHIO: What relationship did your work and the work of the Chemical
Laboratories in general have at this time with the highly visible and famous
03:57:00work that had been going on in transistors and solid state physics? Did you find
that you were doing consulting, that there was the intention to pushing advances
in knowledge of the solid state on the chemical side as well?
BAKER: Oh, yes. By this time, which was 1950, we had organized this seminar that
I think I may have mentioned before. [William] Shockley and Morgan and [Alan C.]
Holden and [Addison H.] White and I, and occasionally [Charles H.] Townes, would
organize a set of mostly after-work seminars which met out at Summit first, and
then of course when we were here. These seminars carried on as the progenitor of
03:58:00the solid state era. So by the time of 1950, there was a well-formed group,
largely headed by Morgan, who was in the physics department but who had come
from chemistry to inaugurate the solid state era. The transistor came out in
1948, but by then Burns and others of us had been closely identified with the
structures and materials that the semiconductors
There was also a sort of combined effort.
By the time the transistor was in hand, the work of Joe [Joseph A.] Becker in
physics, who was [Walter H.] Brattain's mentor and supervisor, was pretty well
03:59:00known. Becker and I had worked together on advanced thermistors of organic
content during the war---as I said, we did other things in the war. Becker's
oxide detectors were the most elegant that the war had for infrared work and for
guidance, and they were made in large numbers. But during that period before the
war was over, Becker and I had done experiments on polyamide thermistors, and
these were highly sensitive semiconducting polyamides along the lines that we'd
talked about earlier. So we were well linked, not only through earlier seminars
and study groups with Slayter's book and the rest, but also to the actual role
04:00:00of organic matter and of polymers and of composites from polymers with some
semiconducting effects. There were also other curious chemical effects. One of
the first experiments with a point-contact transistor that ever worked was when
[Robert B.] Gibney, who was a leader in electrochemistry, was working with
04:01:00Brattain and Becker and Shockley on the point-contact transistor idea. We
prepared for Gibney an organic borate solution that produced the first field
conditions at the point contact that gave transistor actions. They needed a
certain quality of ion content and we made a borate ester that did this. This
was only symptomatic of the links we had there. [M. M.] Sparks was going over to
the transistor work about that time. He was the creator of the junction
04:02:00transistor. He retired as president of Sandia a couple of years ago. A lot of
connections came out of chemistry.
STURCHIO: As you mentioned during the last interview session, the device is only
the beginning of the development process.
BAKER: That's true too. It then had to be developed and used with these
materials that we're talking about. The polymer programs still play a great part
in integrated circuitry. As a matter of fact, it's really come full-circle.
04:03:00[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.4]
04:04:00BAKER: There were lots of exciting things that we set up in the late 1970s that
are almost chemical syntheses of integrated circuits. They involve a series of
chemical steps, making devices chemically which then function under the
conditions you require. At this stage, when our devices were hopelessly crude,
heavy, big, and awkward, there were nevertheless the same requirements for
chemical synthesis around them to make them function. So that's involved in the
original formation of the device as well as in the point you make about the
application of it.
STURCHIO: It's important to have that sense of the cooperation between different
04:05:00areas of the Labs. Most of the history of solid state development at Bell Labs
has focused on the physical side, when in fact there was much important work
going on in the chemical side.
BAKER: Oh, absolutely. And the people who made the fundamental contributors to
the devices, Brattain, Shockley, Townes and [Arthur L.] Schawlow, are the first
to say this. They are the first to say that it was the particular environ we
were in that combined input from chemists, physicists, engineers and others,
that really made it go.
STURCHIO: Before we round off this discussion of the immediate postwar period
and move on at least briefly to the beginning of your administrative career at
the Labs, how was the environment in the late 1940s and early 1950s as far as
collaboration and exchanging information different from before the war, if it
BAKER: The interactions were much stronger than before the war for the simple
reason that by necessity we'd all worked together during the war. We had seen in
the course of that working together that combined science and science combined
with technology just went way beyond the compartmentalization which was
fashionable and respected before the war. Before the war, our business was
04:07:00dominated by very ingenious electrical engineers who had done historic work in
physics, and while they were highly respected around the world, the physics
studies were not taken very seriously by the bulk of our staff. It was argued
that it really didn't have very much to do with telephones. After the war it was
clear that if we were going to make microwaves work, if we were going to make
new switching work, if we were going to make computers work, if we were going to
make the whole realm of signaling systems work, we would have to combine all
these skills. It was a team spirit. It evolved very steadily over many decades
and probably didn't reach a peak until the late 1960s or the early 1970s. It
04:08:00really became crucial there, but it had built up during all that period.
STURCHIO: You said that there was a feeling after the war that science and
technology together would accomplish more than if one maintained artificial
compartmentalization, but it did seem to me that the work that you and your
collaborators were involved in, while still maintaining an interest in basic
polymer science, was much more practically oriented and had very important
results. I'm thinking of the work on the complex stressing of polyethylene that
we talked about. That was something that used the same strategy of understanding
the molecular structures and then linking that understanding to the physical
properties, and that had very real and immediate practical benefits. This seems
04:09:00also to characterize the work that you did that led to work on composites. Does
that seem like a reasonable characterization?
BAKER: Yes. It's very accurate. The Chemical Laboratory in the Bell Laboratories
was always a hybrid. Unlike mathematics and physics and some other
communications fields, it had one foot or one hand or one frontal lobe in
engineering. The engineers whom I spoke about a while ago were elegant,
inventive people who looked at materials as something that was bound to cause
04:10:00trouble, and chemists were the only people who might be able to relieve a little
of that. They were right. For the first forty years of telephony the materials
were the limiting factor. You made the maple blocks work or you made the natural
rubber work or something. So the Chemical Laboratories were pretty close to
engineering in application over all that period, and that tradition did persist.
For example, with polyethylene the cable engineers took the steps to design the
sheath which was revolutionary in the whole world of electrical and electronic
distribution. They found some of the troubles all right. They expected there
04:11:00would be, and then chemistry had to get very deeply involved. We had suggested
the use of this material in the first place, but these engineers went ahead with
all the designs--they were development people--and all the complex processing
which had to be done. The stress failure became absolutely crucial in
controlling their product. This sheathing program alone saved in costs and funds
generated in extra earnings, the cost of the whole research of Bell Laboratories
04:12:00for about ten years. So there's a big leverage here, and that's another reason
that practice and theory and basic science and application get fairly intimately
connected. We could do it because we were an integrated company. A lot of
chemical companies have trouble on that. They might make some very good
material, but they'd never find out, whether they processed it this way, or they
needed a better physical understanding, or whether they needed chemical
modification, because they'd sell it to someone who would try to make a product
not defined by materials.
STURCHIO: In your Perkin Medal address you talked about the work with Winslow
leading to heat shields.
How did that work come about?
BAKER: We got very interested in the semiconductor properties that I'd worked on
04:13:00with Becker. On the one hand, we saw that carbon in the microphones was a
semiconductor and hard to control. We had this work of Lowry's years ago. One
reason we got interested in coal was because there were only certain batches of
anthracite which worked. We guarded them more jealously than gold. The old black
gold idea was really embodied in that stuff. It was under complete guard and
preservation. All the microphones in the Bell System were made out of it. If you
didn't have those, you didn't have a telephone. This was sort of a sad
situation. On the one had, we had the transducer implications of these
semiconductor organic films. On the other hand, carbon in the microphone is
behaving that way. It's doing that. It's doing what Edison found out. It's
04:14:00forming a contact surface. It's got a junction-like property there and so we
thought synthesis should be able to give you this. On the one hand the synthesis
was in terms of mechanical shape because the microphones are much influenced
also by the granularity of that carbon. We could make some completely spherical
carbon, and we knew mechanically how it behaved. It won't pack in the microphone
the same way and it will have some fluid properties that we'll understand by
models. Whether it's any good or not we didn't know. On the other hand, we knew
what the composition was and we'd be able to vary that and see if we could
optimize it. So that's what set us off on this. Winslow had been interested in
04:15:00properties of organic structures during the war, so we set off to synthesize
things which could be converted into semiconducting films. We knew one way to do
that would be dehydrogenate, if we didn't get depolymerization. The way to
dehydrogenate without depolymerizing would be to crosslink as we did with
microgel, very intensely, and perhaps cause some other chemical modifications
which we did mostly by oxidizing. In some cases we didn't even oxidize. These
things formed dehydrogenated films of a very wide range of properties. There was
a meeting at Penn about two weeks ago when the natural science group met. They
04:16:00were describing not only the adduct and baked polymers that Cooper and the other
folks are pursuing, but also the polyacetylenes which were chemically almost
identical to the films that we made by dehydrogenation and have almost the same
properties. That was how we got along that side of it. But when we did the
dehydrogenation, we made a form of very fine spheres to see how a hybridized
particle microphone should behave. You've probably seen some of these. If not,
I'll show you some. They are really quite interesting, very metallic looking
things. The physicists and telephone engineers did that. We worked with them for
several years. R. O. Grisdale was originally one of the chemists who went over
04:17:00to head the telephone instrument part of it, and we worked very closely with
him. We then got to find out that the polymers we were dehydrogenating, as they
went to almost pure carbon form, were harder and more rigid than any form we had
seen in a carbon before. That was partly embodied in these geometric forms. We
made fibers as well as spheres, and films as well as fibers. That showed up as
04:18:00very high modulus materials. The structures were something in between those
which we and people in England and other places had recognized you could get by
pyrolysis. They did it by pyrolysis from the vapor. We then identified very
strong composites. I was interested in that because I'd been working by that
time with some of the Air Force laboratories which were trying to make rocket
cones and rocket cases using boron fibers, which were very good except they were
almost impossible to get. This carbon was much easier to get. About that time,
we reported some of that work at the International Congress of Pure and Applied
Chemistry in New York in either 1953 or 1954.
04:19:00began to be a little stirring about rocketry, and then when Sputnik went up, of
course, this mobilization was fairly familiar to us because of our wartime
experience. There was a rocket and jet group formed in the Pentagon, with a
so-called czar of rocketry, a fellow from Chrysler Corporation. They set out to
find out how to make the ICBMs, and most particularly the nose cones that were
required for the containment of nuclear weapons, since the Soviets had
threatened to do that step in their rocketry. We had found even before Sputnik
04:20:00that they were quite far along in pursuing that. There were several groups then
organized in the National Research Council to try and find out what the latest
science could do for making ICBMs and for generally enabling us to enter the
missile and rocket space age. It was found that these nose cones were very
demanding. They had thought they could make them of a copper-beryllium alloy and
we supposed that that would be adequate. They have tremendous heat when they
re-enter. This alloy was fairly refractive but hard to make; Lockheed was
04:21:00working on it. But they also asked a group in the National Research Council to
see what alternatives there might be. That group was Hans Thurnauer, who was a
ceramics leader; Games Slayter, who was the inventor of Fiberglas; and myself.
We were to see whether you could do anything outside the metallic range. That
was a logical idea because there was somebody who knew about silicates and
fibers--Slayter; somebody who knew about ceramics, which might be alumina or
something--Thumauer; and somebody who was a fanatic about polymers--myself. It
04:22:00didn't take us long. In our report we said that we analyzed the requirements for
reentry and for rocket propulsion and that we believed the way to make rockets
and particularly the nose cones so that they would not disintegrate on reentry
had a chemical basis. Namely, we found that the ablation which was used to make
these polymer carbon particles, the spheres and the like, has very high energy
04:23:00absorption. You maintain the shape but you can change the structure. We thought
this would work. It would look like something is burning up, but it would come
out as a very refractory and enduring substance. They accepted that and assigned
GE at Valley Forge the task of engineering it, which they did extremely well.
04:24:00These nose cones were tested out over the south Atlantic. They were recovered
because they wanted to find out what was going on, and sure enough they had
survived. Obviously they didn't have a nuclear warhead inside, but they had all
the instruments which would describe what the warhead would have been doing.
President Eisenhower insisted they bring them into his office and take a picture
of it. These nose cones were huge, but they did. We've got a picture of it in
the Oval Office with President Eisenhower beaming, because it did get us finally
on the track of the counterforce to the Russian ICBM threat. When [Hans] Bethe
got the Bush Award a couple of weeks ago, Don Larson and I were with him before
04:25:00the banquet. I reminded him how he and I went out to the Lockheed plant in
Sunnyvale in 1957 to see how they were doing on the first Polaris missiles,
which had to have this same property. But they had gone a long distance down the
road by then to the old copper-beryllium nose cone. They never tried it out, but
it was clearly a very serious restraint on the Polaris missiles which were much
smaller than the first ones we were using. Bethe and I were on the White House
Science Committee by then, and we shuddered at what we saw being constructed all
over that huge Lockheed plant because we didn't think they would last and work
04:26:00in the Polaris system. We managed to convince them to switch that to an ablating
nose cone. Bethe remembered that with some interest. But that is how this
ablating structure got introduced.
STURCHIO: Fascinating. Was the report that you mentioned in 1957 also?
BAKER: I think it was 1956 or 1957. If you don't have it, I'll look it up and
get you one. There aren't many copies, but there are some.
STURCHIO: That jumps us ahead to some of your scientific advisory work for the
government, which I doubt we'll be able to cover today. That's a story in itself.
BAKER: Yes. That's era which has to do with the Bell System and their feeling
04:27:00about national mission and responsibility. A certain amount of that did come out
of the war experience, however, but a certain amount of it came out of the
Sputnik part as well. That has had ramifications which I think probably would be
better treated on another occasion, such as the formation of the national
materials program, where Penn was one of the three research sites selected.
Chemistry is playing an expanding role, but it has taken a long time to really
get there. There will be a major survey of this in the National Academy of
Sciences on October 28 and 29. As a good chemical archivist you will want to
04:28:00keep an eye on that because chemistry has been the absolutely central factor. It
influenced many, many other fields so strongly and it will be interesting to see
how it all comes out in October.
STURCHIO: I asked you the last time how you got into that polymer research in
the late 1930s when you joined Bell Labs. I'm interested in how things had
changed by the early 1950s, with the experience of the synthetic rubber project
and other polymer-related research in the war.
BAKER: Well, it carried on very much along the lines that you've outlined for
04:29:00the transition between war and the early 1950s. The work of the 1950s moved
mainly along that line. The chemistry work expanded a lot. It became very basic
to the solid state era, and it was exercised by the developers of the
transistor, the diode, and the whole digital circuitry era which was coming in
then. About seven percent of the total possible investment in the U.S.A. was
done by the Bell System in that period from 1961 to about 1971. There were huge
investments in materials, because materials were intrinsic to all the new plants
04:30:00that were built, and chemistry got deeper and deeper into it.
STURCHIO: That's the context for understanding roles of chemistry in itself,
which is very important. To be more specific, what about within the polymer
research group at Bell Labs? Did you now find you were following any journals of
polymer science, or was it still that one read broadly to find out what was
BAKER: We did both. We felt very strongly that the field was expanding
world-wide and we invested as heavily as we could in the national commitment and
international commitment. The journals, the whole bibliographic side, became
extremely important and we participated in that. I guess we're still
represented. I know I'm still a part of the Journal of Polymer Science. But I
04:31:00think our people have other bibliographic investments, too. We felt that the
world growth of that field was paralleling very much the expansion that we did.
[W. P.] Slichter came in about this 1950 period. He was the head of the whole
materials laboratory, the executive director, but he started out with the
polymer work and expanded it. David McCall is now the chemical director. So
there's been a very steady growth.
STURCHIO: Were informal mechanisms still important in the late 1940s and early
1950s? For instance, you figured very prominently in the Gibson Island
04:32:00Conferences and later the Gordon Conferences. Were there any sort of informal
mechanisms for exchanging polymer information?
BAKER: They were very important and very much esteemed. Some of the reasons were
kind of interesting. We were one of the few industries that were not producing
polymers in any significant way, but instead we were tremendous users. We
therefore had the confidence of many of the other industrial components, the
people who were producing them. They didn't think we would betray their secrets,
which we didn't--if they had any secrets. But as a byproduct of this, we
encouraged interaction among them. We encouraged them not to be so nervous and
fidgety that we were going to take each other's secrets all the time, which
turned out to be justified confidence. Publication really happens and these
04:33:00things get known much faster than chemical industry thought they were getting
known. You have to maintain secrecy for a while, of course, but not over the
years that they did. So we were modest factors in encouraging these informal
meetings. There were especially the Gibson Island meetings, in which we took a
very strong part. But there were the Saturday sessions at Brooklyn Poly and rump
sessions at the American Chemical Society and the Physical Society meetings. We
gave original papers at the inaugural session of the American Physical Society
division of Polymer Physics. Up to that point APS had decided that whatever
polymers had, they didn't have any physics. We changed that a little bit. Debye
04:34:00was very pleased. This was about 1950. Those kinds of interactions were much encouraged.
STURCHIO: We should move on to your administrative career. We've been talking
about work that was still going on in the early 1950s when you had become
assistant director of the Chemical Laboratories. Would you reflect about how
what you did on the job changed? It must have changed when you became assistant director.
04:35:00[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.5]
BAKER: Yes, although I did stay in the laboratory during most of that period,
starting in 1951. By 1954, when I was assigned to be executive director of the
physical sciences, I had still managed to keep my laboratory. We did what we
could. My assistants did most of the work, but I did get my fingers in some of
04:36:00it. What we were seeing was an expansion through the whole domain of technology
and science of the fundamentals of molecular and atomic properties which were
the working ground of chemistry for many years, and the physics, particularly
solid state physics as it came along. That plus the fact that materials, the
substances that people had to build things with, were more and more versatile
and met demands, led to a natural interaction with the rest of the business of
Bell Laboratories. Of course, I had always been very much interested in
signaling systems, and the original work with Smyth was a kind of signaling
system. What one did was to send electromagnetic waves through matter and see
04:37:00what happened to them. The fact that we were now sending them over networks
between New York and San Francisco was still quite analogous to what happened to them.
STURCHIO: During those years from 1951 to 1954, when you were assistant director
of the Chemical Laboratories, Burns was still director. [see next page] What
kind of style did he have in leading the labs?
BAKER: He was very good. He had recognized a bit earlier how these scientific
and technical fields were converging. He had encouraged [L. A.] Wooten, who was
another one of our associates in the lab, to set up a special group for
electronics, both tubes and semiconductors. He had recognized the excitement and
04:38:00new activities of polymers. He had played a part in the discovery of the
transistor. So he was just gung-ho for progress and for having matter understood
as it was used. He also had a strong, interesting part in corrosion containment
in the [telephone] plant. This plant was growing, and billions and billions of
dollars were needed during that period. We were borrowing furiously to finance
it, so it was fairly important to have it last. Burns was very strong on that.
Forty years was a minimal stand, regarded by much of industry as either absurd
04:39:00or unacceptable, because they wanted some obsolescence in some of their things,
but we wanted our stuff to last, which it has.
STURCHIO: What sort of duties did you take on as assistant director? You must
have had to worry more about budgets and authorizations.
BAKER: It was a lot of fun throughout the whole period because there was a
tradition at the Bell System for the management to know something about what
everybody was doing. That is, to know some of the science and engineering in
that field, some of the bibliography and information handling in your field, et
cetera. So everybody knew something. We don't go for this business school
principle that you just switch people around every few days in order to get
04:40:00practice or they become abstract managers. Rather, you really had to know the
content. We spent a lot of time on that. I spent time on the design of programs
and strategies for new work. Electronics was one part of it, and computers were
another part. They were just by-products of telecommunications and of the
engineering as we needed them. In 1966 the Engineers Joint Council wrote an
analysis of the present and future of computers--there wasn't much of a
past--although we did also work with [George] Stibitz as he made the first one.
So it was very natural to cooperate with the large numbers of people then who
04:41:00were doing the new work and try to organize it.
STURCHIO: In 1954 you became director of research in the physical sciences. That
was when Burns retired. Was there reorganization so that the traditional
director of the Chemical Laboratories didn't exist anymore, and you took over
BAKER: The Chemical Laboratories kept on existing all right.
STURCHIO: I meant as a separate organization.
BAKER: Well, it was still a separate organization. It still is. You are right
about the reorganization. We took that as an occasion for growth and for
recognizing what Burns and Williams and the others had started so well, and that
was that there ought to be a volume of chemistry and materials work so that
basically every part of the Laboratories could call on it. One of the first
04:42:00things we did was to establish a new laboratory of metals and ceramics that
[Earle E.] Schumacher headed and which was greatly warranted over the years. We
wanted to recognize that and expand it. We had the Chemical Laboratories. Pretty
soon Wooten had done such work that we had a laboratory of chemical physics that
grew out of the Chemical Laboratories.
STURCHIO: Were these changes that occurred during that year that you were
director of research in physical sciences?
BAKER: Yes, those things arose during that year in the physical sciences.
STURCHIO: Then a year later you became vice president for research when James
Fisk went upstairs to be president of Bell Labs. There are so many things to
talk about during the years that you were vice president for research. You've
already talked about how you began to implement this vision of a unified
04:43:00materials science with chemistry at the core along with allied fields. Clearly
by 1955 you were in a position to really do something about it. What was the
style that you tried to bring to the Labs, or the tone you tried to set when you
became vice president for research?
BAKER: We were encouraged in that job to be very basic in the new science, which
was moving pretty fast then. It was not only solid state, a lot of which had
started here, but it was quantum-electrodynamics. It was the whole range of
04:44:00synthetic chemistry. It was the range of physics that dealt with collective
phenomena and physical mechanics. It was the mathematics that dealt with quality
assurance and statistics and statistically viable experiments. It was the
fundamental measurement and expression of signals and encoding. It was the
communications science of the organism, of the behavioral features which we
didn't quite yet know but which we had a background on from Pierce's work. It
was acoustics which we made into a new laboratory at that point. It was the fact
04:45:00that all those fundamentals were coming together in disciplines of understanding
that we really hadn't exploited very heavily before. Computers were shaping up
as one of the ways you could do it. The exploitation was enoiniously enhanced
because we'd be able to handle quantities of data. We had a machine which was
"humaned" by computresses--you wouldn't say manned. Did you know that
computresses were one of the great resources of the Bell Laboratories at that
stage? We had a bunch of these folks before IBM or we or anybody had adequate
mainframes. We had manual systems that were fast, and we did mathematics
research in computing way beyond what anybody in the world thought was possible,
04:46:00by having these folks do it. And they became very expert indeed. They really
knew what programming was about. This was the atmosphere in which we proceeded
then to reorganize and expand research programs.
STURCHIO: Before we started the tape today you were talking about the problem of
how, in just a few years from 1951 and 1955, you'd gone from paying attention to
and conducting polymer research with the group that you headed right after the
war, to being responsible for all of the research activities at Bell Labs. It
must have been a daunting task to keep on top of everything, to have a sense of
what was going on at all times.
BAKER: I think that they were so nervous that I would mess up on what I was
04:47:00doing that they wanted to get my attention somewhere else. [laughter] But
whatever it was, we did find it very challenging and exciting. For one thing,
the work in chemistry and materials and solids that we'd been talking about put
one in touch with a great variety of people in other fields. There were the
engineers, the physics people, the acoustics people. We had [Warren P.] Mason's
work and the mathematics work in the original dynamics of single polymer chains
which has grown to be a very lively field, and we had the privilege of doing the
first work in that area. These are simply examples that I think we got to know
these people very well, and we encouraged our colleagues to expand, so it was
04:48:00really fairly natural and easy to get acquainted and to get sympathetic response
to the new things that we wanted to do. We were lucky in that at the same time
as the discovery of the transistor, [Claude E.] Shannon, with Bode's
encouragement, had discovered communication theory. Now I've lost face in many
forms, but one of the times I lost face was on the tenth anniversary of the
transistor. We had a big event here in 1958 or so, and we were all speaking in
They were saying how this would
endure in history forever, and I said, "Yes, and after it's forgotten in a few
thousand years, communication theory will still be with us," which had been not
04:49:00mentioned in the transistor era just by chance. That was a very fundamental
thing. Now, that said that the future of telephony, and of telecommunications,
and of computers should be digitally based. It should be on and off, a bi-state
phenomena of matter of some kind. It could be relays, which could have been
recognized long before, but it also could be a junction device, a transistor, a
flash of light from something which we later embodied in the laser, and so on.
Well, this was very interesting to us, because we'd known from the work on
dielectrics and also later work in magnetics that hi-states were something you
could achieve in a lot of interesting ways. It started out in dielectrics,
because a dipole either points one way or the other. It's either plus or minus.
04:50:00A magnetic pole will give you the same thing. With charges, a positive charge is
either there or it's not there. Or you can have a positive charge and a negative
charge. This fits in a way that nobody had been lucky enough to encounter before
because communications had been a fairly complicated deal, and analog signals
were really complicated. Telegraphy was perfectly good--digital--but nobody
thought of it in terms of very large volumes, very high speed reactions. We were
lucky in coming at a time when digital processes were getting dimly but clearly
in view. Bi-states of matter and control of charges in solids were getting
04:51:00clearly in view and we just brought them together. That's the history of the
STURCHIO: Those were truly exciting times at the Labs. With all these exciting
developments, did you institute new systems for making sure that information was
shared widely throughout the Labs so people could keep in touch? You mentioned
earlier that you had bench scientists come and talk to the council as a way of
increasing the flow of information up and down the hierarchy. I wonder if you
could just talk about some of that. After all, it was an organization of
twenty-six thousand people by then.
BAKER: Yes. We did work at these things. There was a steady increase of the
04:52:00number of seminars, of exchanges of information. Very particularly, there was a
strong growth in the already well-established tradition of MMs, memos for files,
which are absolutely essential. We encouraged the formation of the Mercury
system which brought this to people's attention. That kind of thing made people
feel responsible for each other, or at least involved in each other's work to a
remarkable degree. We got a lot more academic activity in. We were talking
earlier about not having consultants, and we changed that drastically. We made
our staff feel that they were part of the total national community and that
04:53:00academics were consultants and participants, colleagues, and very much in style.
A number of them came and worked for periods here. We then encouraged our staff
people to spend time at the universities. This has changed. This happened in the
1950s in a very dramatic way, and we had dozens of them who did that. That made
them feel that they were exchanging views and information with a larger
community, and I think it made our internal community much more labile. There
were a lot of other techniques. We introduced during this period the calendars
which told what these little discussion groups were doing. You can see these
now--the green ones. Winslow, the fellow whom we referred to in connection with
polymer carbon, was the sponsor of that. He and I worked out ways to get every
04:54:00part of the research department represented there. Now it's more or less a
laboratory-wide situation. We joined with the regional laboratories much more
closely, which was something Dr. [Mervin J.] Kelly had invented. We got chemists
and physicists to be visitors and residents in laboratories in Ohio and
Massachusetts and Illinois, so there were all these factors that made the community.
STURCHIO: Your mentioning these discussion groups and seminars reminded me of
something else. In another context, I've been looking at the history of the
Eastman Kodak research labs. One of the first things that Kenneth Mees did that
04:55:00became a tradition at the Kodak labs was to set up conferences in various
specific research areas. They had a conference on couplers in color photography,
and that conference has been in existence for a couple decades or even more. It
sounds very similar to the sort of thing that you were describing in the
mid-1950s. Did you call up your colleagues at other companies? Did you get
together with any of them to talk about ways of encouraging information flow and
organizing research? BAKER Let me put it another way. Jewett was one of the
founders, along with [Willis R.] Whitney from GE, of the Directors of Industrial
Research. It was a small, very informal group, unfortunately somewhat larger now
and not so informal. I became a member of that about 1954. We did do that. The
04:56:00Industrial Research Institute was beginning to flourish at that point, and got
much larger. We spent time at that, consistently and seriously. We participated
in their various academic conferences on how to organize and what to do. We
still do to some extent. It's interesting that our people now, for their own
good reasons, I think--and I think this was true in other laboratories, too
don't seem to be as active in some of those large arenas of organization
management as they used to be, but we did spend a lot of time at it in those
years. I'm not sure that we learned anything very startling or very surprising.
STURCHIO: Of course, Bell Laboratories had a unique kind of organizational context.
BAKER: The integration was of great help. We had links with our factories and
04:57:00links with users. These were things that many of our colleagues don't have,
didn't have, and we won't have either if we don't look out. We don't have links
with our users the way we used to. That was of tremendous value.
STURCHIO: Before we close, I'd like to ask you if there's something that I
should have asked you today. Something that you really feel that I've missed.
BAKER: No. I think you've covered these things very expertly. The thing that may
come into some more discussion at some stage would be more substance of how
04:58:00chemistry has grown in this period. I think there have been interactions that
you've been discussing and that you are talking about with the whole chemical
community, the outside chemical community. I think we could talk more about
that, which really would be related to your broader topic.
STURCHIO: Well, I'd be delighted to come back again and have another interview.
BAKER: Yes. In that respect, by the way, I will produce some artifacts. I think
they'll amuse you. Original polymers, blocks of stuff, all sorts of things.
STURCHIO: That would be delightful.
BAKER: They're kind of interesting. You might even want some of them. At least
they illustrate the point. You've probably got some that are embodied in
something useful. Mine might be just junk, but they might be interesting to you
as well. We'll look forward to that.
04:59:00[Untranscribed material, 4:58:52 – 4:59:32]
STURCHIO: Thanks again for your time.
05:00:00[END OF AUDIO FILE 2.6]
[END OF INTERVIEW]